Yasiel Puig smiled as he held the cellphone and watched the replay. His bat flip was back, and it was majestic.
Celebrate the game? Puig did, and so did Major League Baseball, posting that replay on its Twitter account for 7 million followers to see, with the tag “early bat flip of the year contender.”
Puig hit his first home run of the spring Sunday, deep onto the grass berm behind left-center field. The ball went high and far, and so did the bat.
“I haven’t flipped the bat like that in a while,” he said, “because I haven’t hit the ball like that in a while.”
Said Manager Dave Roberts: “He’s in midseason form with the bat flip. I think he earned that one.”
The Dodgers would love for Puig to reclaim his job as the everyday right fielder, but he needs to improve on his .386 slugging percentage against right-handers last season. In 13 at-bats off right-handers this spring, he has four hits — three for extra bases, including Sunday’s home run.
He also has had what Roberts called “empty at-bats” — swinging at the first pitch, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, making weak contact.
“He’s continually trying to clean up his approach and his at-bats,” Roberts said.
Puig’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage has declined in each of his first four seasons; the Dodgers demoted him last August over concern about his fading production and aloof clubhouse manner. He declined to say what statistics the Dodgers might reasonably expect from him this season.
“What I really want to focus on is what sent me to triple A — be a better teammate, get here on time, follow the rules,” Puig said. “Everything else is up to God.”
Puig said two years ago that he would cut back on his bat flips so as not to be perceived as disrespecting the game. Is a bat flip as grand as the one on Sunday back in his game now?
“If I hit the ball like that again,” he said, laughing.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Sergio Romo leave this week to join Team Mexico for the World Baseball Classic, and pitcher Julio Urias said he wishes the Dodgers would have let him go as well.
“I can’t lie to you. I do feel a little sad,” Urias said through an interpreter Sunday. “I do feel as if I wish I could have gone.
“It’s the decision of the team and I have to respect it, at least for the first round, and then see what they decide for the second round.”
The Dodgers are extraordinarily protective of Urias, 20, the phenom with lightning in his left arm. They have not said whether they would allow him to represent his country if Mexico advances to the second round.
Urias, trying to secure a spot in the starting rotation, pitched two hitless innings in Sunday’s 7-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners. He deflected the notion that his chances of starting the season in the Dodgers’ rotation might be better if he stayed in camp all spring, and he is not comforted by the thought that he could pitch for Mexico in the next WBC.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in four years,” Urias said. “Maybe in four years there is no longer a Classic, or I don’t have the health to represent my team.”
Dear old dad
Roberts said he surprised his 11-year-old daughter by showing up for her school play in San Diego on Saturday night. The play was “Peter Pan,” his daughter played one of the Lost Boys, and she broke into tears when she saw her father waiting with flowers after the show.
Roberts flew to Southern California on Saturday afternoon and flew back on a 6:20 a.m. flight Sunday. He said he encourages his players to set aside time for their families over the course of a season that can occupy just about every day from February through October.
“To have some sense of balance in our lives is important so that, when we do show up, we get all of each other,” he said. “I think I need to live by that as well.”
Shortstop Corey Seager sat out a second consecutive game because of back soreness. Roberts said Seager should resume baseball workouts Monday and could return to the lineup Tuesday. Said Seager: “It’s not serious. It’s not outrageous. It’s March.” … Gonzalez (elbow) is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut as the designated hitter Monday. He is expected to play first base Tuesday, then leave for the WBC. … Roberts said Hyun-Jin Ryu, trying to rejoin the Dodgers’ rotation after shoulder and elbow surgeries the past two years, is expected to make his Cactus League debut Tuesday or Wednesday.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin