As good as rookie Yasiel Puig has been on the field for the Dodgers in his first six weeks in the major leagues, he may be having an even bigger influence on the team in the clubhouse.
“When you see somebody play with unquestionably way more talent than you have or close to anybody else in baseball has, you kind of remember why you’re playing this game,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “And you kind of become a fan. And you realize why you love baseball again when you see him out there playing. The joy that he plays with is unmatched by anybody.
“He plays with so much heart and passion. He’s definitely provided that energy and that example.”
Before the effervescent 22-year-old was called up from the minor leagues, the Dodgers locker room was often a dour place. Manager Don Mattingly was under fire as were struggling -- and often injured -- team leaders such as Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
And the highest salaried team in baseball history was last the National League West.
Since Puig’s arrival, however, the Dodgers have rocketed through the division and went into the four-day All-Star break in second place, 2½ games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But first baseman Adrian Gonzalez says shortstop Hanley Ramirez also deserves some credit for that. Ramirez has hit .427 with 22 runs scored since returning to the lineup full time a month ago. The Dodgers were 6-7 in their first 13 games with Puig in the lineup but since then they’ve gone 18-9 when Puig and Ramirez start together.
“When we got Hanley back, then we took off,” Gonzalez said. “Having a full lineup, if I don’t come through it doesn’t matter because the next guy will. So it makes our lienup so much better, that’s what takes the pressure away. It’s not [Puig] that takes the pressure away. It’s having a deep lineup.”
But while Puig continues to have a positive influence in the clubhouse, his impact on the field may be waning as opponents begin to adjust to him. Puig hit .436/.467/.713 with 19 runs scored and 16 runs batted in 26 games in June. But in the final week before the All-Star break, Puig hit .250/.250/.250 with no walks, no extra-base hits and no runs batted in.
And the dropoff has been especially profound his second time through the division. In his first series with division foes San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and Arizona, Puig hit .455 combined with four homers and 10 RBIs in 44 at-bats. Second time through, he batted .268 with two homers and two RBIs in 56 at-bats.