The white Toyota 4Runner rolled into the parking lot at 4:03 p.m. on Tuesday, and from the passenger seat emerged Yasiel Puig.
A small group awaited him near a soccer field packed with children. Puig smiled as a Dodgers official affixed a microphone to his neckline. He removed his sunglasses and pulled on a "Dodgers Love L.A." T-shirt over a frame that has become an object of interest after his production declined last year.
Several hours after new Manager Dave Roberts completed a series of engagements as part of the Dodgers' preseason caravan, Puig appeared by himself at the Red Shield Youth and Community Center in the Pico-Union neighborhood. The men have yet to speak this off-season, both said, even as Roberts prepares for his first season in charge and Puig tries to rebound from a disappointing campaign.
Roberts said he hoped the coming weeks would allow them to forge a relationship, the lack of which plagued former manager Don Mattingly toward the end of his tenure. The two will talk next month at spring training, Puig said. Roberts blamed himself for one missed connection when he said they "were supposed to have a setup deal, but it just didn't happen.
"We're still working on that," Roberts said during an appearance at Pasadena Muir High. "I think that he's done some traveling. He's here now. We're still working on the complete connection. But I do know that he's getting prepared, and he's in good shape."
Last month at the winter meetings, Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, mentioned Puig's physique as a potential contributor to his struggles last season. The outfielder's weight was listed at 255 pounds, a growing number that Friedman indicated "may not be the optimal size for him to play 150 games, 150-plus games."
Twice forced onto the disabled list by hamstring injuries, Puig played in only 79 games. He batted .255 and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage sagged to .758. He was hitless in six at-bats in five games in the Dodgers' defeat to the New York Mets in a National League division series.
Aware of the ongoing discussions about his size, Puig joked he weighed 280 pounds — "I'm so fat," he said — before designating himself around 240 pounds. He indicated he was taking Friedman's advice, even if he declined to connect the dots between the scales and the plate.
"You're right, he did suggest I lose a few pounds, for that exact reason," Puig said through a team official, who acted as his translator. "For me, I don't see the correlation between weight and how well one plays baseball, or how that affects one or the other. However, of course, I'm taking him up on that suggestion. Everyone else has encouraged me to do the same. But really, I don't see much correlation."
He added, "If that's their suggestions to better how I play and be a better player, then, absolutely, I'm on board with it."
Asked what he was doing to reach this goal, Puig stuck to generalities.
"Just training really hard," he said.
Roberts suggested he would be happy if Puig's weight settled between 235 and 240 pounds.
"It's hard to say," he said. "He's a large human."
In the morning, Roberts received a commendation from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. He traveled to Pasadena before lunch to speak with students at Muir. Despite the lack of communication with Puig, Roberts indicated he had been in contact with many Dodgers players.
"I've touched base with most of them, quite often, actually," Roberts said. "To really get to know somebody, you need to put in the time and get face to face. I think a foundation is on its way."
In time, Roberts said, he intends to develop a similar relationship with Puig. The front office hopes Puig can recapture the form that catalyzed the team in 2013 and sent him to the All-Star game in 2014. He turned 25 in December.
Puig sounded unshaken about the latest off-field controversy to envelope him this off-season.
Major League Baseball has yet to release its findings in its investigation into allegations into an incident involving Puig in a Miami bar in November. Puig indicated he was unaware of the timeline of the investigation, but cited his appearance on a goodwill tour of Cuba last month as a positive sign.
"I believe that was resolved a while back," Puig said. "I mean, I was allowed to go to Cuba on that trip. So I can imagine that was already sorted out."
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes
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