Yasiel Puig shows flashes of what a difference maker he can be for Dodgers

Yasiel Puig shows flashes of what a difference maker he can be for Dodgers
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig follows through on a three-run triple to right field against the Nationals in the fifth inning on Aug. 11. (Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)

From the department of rhetorical questions: Are the Dodgers a better team when Yasiel Puig is playing up to his ability?

Heck, they're better when anyone is playing up to their ability. But as Zack Greinke noted after Puig drove in all of the Dodgers' runs Tuesday in their 5-0 victory over the Nationals: "When anyone gets going, it's great. Maybe his level of being hot is better than some other guys."


Yeah, just maybe.

"Yasiel kind of took over that game offensively," said Manager Don Mattingly. "Hopefully that gets his confidence back. I'm not sure he ever loses confidence, honestly."

Puig remains the Dodgers' most dynamic talent -- if most lately, it's most frustrating one. He entered Tuesday batting .241 on the season. In his last 32 games, he was hitting .182 with .229 on-base and .345 slugging percentages. This from a player who began the season with a .305/.386/.502 career slash line.

His third season has easily been his most frustrating. He missed six weeks with a hamstring strain, and has never really seemed to get it going -- at least to his expected level -- since he returned from this disabled list June 6.

As Puig continued to struggle, Mattingly understandably has shown an increased willingness to rest him against some right-handed starters. Puig has worked at making adjustments to his stance, but Mattingly insists that the 24-year-old has been swinging better of late.

"I don't think he's been that bad," he said. "I know he struggled there for a little bit. He worked to get things straightened out. His mechanics look better. I think he's fine."

Puig was less than forthcoming after Tuesday's game, insisting that his success was more about laying off poor pitches than significant adjustments to his stance.

"I have the same swing, I've just been having trouble connecting," he said through an interpreter. "I haven't been picking good pitches."

The Dodgers lost two powerful right-handed bats in the off-season in Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. Puig was supposed to be the team's main right-handed weapon. Instead, he is currently eighth on the team in RBIs (34) and tied for eighth in homers (nine). He did miss 40 games with the hamstring injury.

But if Puig can emerge as the player he was his rookie season, when he put together a dramatic .319/.391/.534 slash line, the Dodgers are a very different team. Probably no other player on the Dodgers is capable of such a potentially significant impact.

Mattingly can only attempt to put him in the best position to succeed. On Tuesday, Puig hit a two-run homer and three-run triple. Maybe it's just one game and maybe it's the start of something big. Because his level of hot is better than some other guys.