Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig ‘feels normal’ amid shocking stories of his past
SAN FRANCISCO -- On the publication day of a second magazine article detailing Yasiel Puig’s dangerous escape from Cuba, the main subject of the story was smiling.
“I feel normal,” Puig said in Spanish. “I’m focused on baseball and giving the best of myself to the team and, hopefully, everything turns out well on the field. Those things that are happening aren’t affecting me.”
Asked how he could remain focused in light of recent revelations about his past, Puig was about to start answering, only for a Dodgers staffer to prevent him from doing so.
The next inquiry was also shut down by Roman Barinas, the Dodgers’ manager of international scouting.
For what it was worth, Puig certainly appeared unaffected Thursday in a 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants, making two spectacular catches to help the Dodgers avoid a three-game sweep at AT&T Park.
“He’s been incredible in right field,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “I was thinking about it during that game. If you have to put the guy you want out there, where you have to make a play or throw a guy out something, Yasiel’s the guy. He’s been incredible out there this year.”
Overthrowing cut-off men, as he often did last season, is no longer a problem.
About the only mistake he has made occurred in the second inning Thursday, when he dropped a routine fly ball by Brandon Hicks with one out and a man on first base. But Puig quickly recovered the ball and rifled it to second base to record a force-out.
“It was a really easy ball,” Puig said. “I tried to catch it like I always catch it, but it hit me in the thumb.”
Mattingly smiled when asked about the sequence.
“I’m glad he got the guy at second,” Mattingly said.
Puig looked like Willie Mays on the next play. With his back to home plate, he ran down a line drive by Gregor Blanco at the warning track to make a catch over his shoulder for the final out. If Puig hadn’t caught the ball, Hicks might have scored from first base and tied the score, 1-1.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez raised his arms. Before retreating to the dugout, Gonzalez and pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu waited for Puig by the first base line.
Puig himself said he made a “great catch.”
Puig made another breathtaking grab in the eighth inning and the Dodgers leading, 2-0. With Ehire Adrianza at second base, Joaquin Arias blooped a ball into shallow right field that looked as if it would drop. Center fielder Matt Kemp and second baseman Dee Gordon converged on the ball but came nowhere near it. Puig caught it in full stride. The Giants didn’t score in the inning.
Despite the victory, the Dodgers have lost four of their six games to the Giants this season, with whom they share first place in the National League West.
The Dodgers will open a three-game series Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium, where they probably will face more inquires about Puig’s background.
Like the article in Los Angeles Magazine that ran earlier in the week, an ESPN the Magazine piece published online Thursday reported Puig received death threats last season from human traffickers linked to a Mexican drug cartel.
‘Mattingly said he read the Los Angeles Magazine story.
Of the death threats Puig allegedly received, Mattingly said, “It’s all news to us. If it was news to anyone above me, I don’t know that. But it was news to me.”
Mattingly might not have known anything, but there’s a sign someone in the organization did. The manager revealed the first trip last season on which the Dodgers were accompanied by full-time security detail was to Pittsburgh. That was Puig’s first time on the road with the major league team.
Mattingly acknowledged the Los Angeles Magazine story raised some concerns.
“I think if you care about Yasiel, there’s some serious stuff there that he has to deal with,” Mattingly said.
In the wake of article’s publication, Mattingly said he checked with Puig to see how he was feeling or whether he wanted a day off. But the manager said he had no plans to have a lengthy conversation with the 23-year-old right fielder.
Asked whether he thought he should know more about Puig’s situation, Mattingly replied, “I’m the manager of the baseball team. I’m not running the whole organization, I’m not the president or the ownership. If they felt like I needed to know everything about everything that’s going on, I’m sure I would have.”
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