What Yasiel Puig is doing now might be as unexpected as what he did as a rookie last year.
His eighth home run of the season was responsible for the first run scored Friday by the Dodgers, who beat the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, 7-0. Puig drove in two runs, scored two more and finished a triple short of the cycle, providing the offensive complement to Zack Greinke's eight shutout innings.
Puig, who extended his career-long hitting streak to 15 games, is now batting a team-leading .333.
"It's all the work I'm doing every day," Puig said. "I get to the ballpark early and I work hard in the batting cage."
This wasn't supposed to happen.
Not like this. Not at this stage of his career.
Puig's transformation from overnight sensation to legitimate All-Star candidate is the result of a surprising display of plate discipline.
"I think that's the big key for him," Manager Don Mattingly said.
The absence of such patience last year is why Mattingly said in spring training that Puig couldn't be counted on to drive in runs on a consistent basis.
So much for that concern. Puig leads the Dodgers with 33 runs batted in.
He also leads the Dodgers with 19 walks.
"Never thought we'd see that," Mattingly said.
Puig walked only 36 times in 106 games as a rookie last season.
His early success last year was widely attributed to the willingness of opposing pitchers to challenge him. But as they started pounding him with fastballs inside and made him chase junk outside, his production declined. Puig batted .214 in September and looked completely lost when the Dodgers were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
"In the past we've seen him in getting in 3-1s, 2-0s and them still not throwing strikes," Mattingly said.
"He's now basically forcing the issue," Mattingly said. "You throw him strikes or you walk him. He's forcing them to throw strikes."
Adrian Gonzalez has encouraged Puig to be more patient, playfully competing with him every series to see who reaches base more.
"I'm taking more walks and being more selective," Puig said.
Puig said he doesn't watch video of opposing pitchers. But he said he has made a concerted effort to slow down the game.
"I'm not in a rush," he said.
Over his last 21 games, Puig is batting .395 with six home runs and 25 RBIs.
Behind his latest performance, the Dodgers improved to 8-1 against the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers, who are 23-20 overall, are 15-19 against everyone else.
Meanwhile, Greinke's own stretch of dominance continued, as the right-hander turned in what was the team's best start of the season.
Greinke limited the Diamondbacks to five hits over eight innings, improving his record to 7-1 and lowering his earned-run average to 2.03.
Greinke pitched his way out of trouble in the second inning, when the Diamondbacks had runners on first and second base with no outs. He forced Chris Owings to pop up to third baseman Juan Uribe on an attempted bunt and forced Ender Inciarte to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"I threw what was needed in certain times," Greinke said. "That was probably the key."
Puig hit a solo home run in the next inning, a blistering opposite-field shot off left-hander Wade Miley.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times