Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig doesn’t let hitting slump affect mood

Yasiel Puig went into Saturday batting .186 in his last 31 games.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press )

For the last couple of months, the Dodgers have celebrated each of their home runs by turning on a machine that dispenses soap bubbles in their dugout.

Yasiel Puig, who hit his last home run July 31, has never turned on that machine.

“One of these days, I’ll experience it,” Puig said in Spanish.

He threw back his head and laughed.

“Maybe in the playoffs,” he said.

With his second major league season coming to a close, Puig finds himself in the worst slump of his life.

He went into Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants batting .186 in his last 31 games. Over that period, he had only three extra-base hits, all doubles. His average, which reached a season-best .347 on June 1, is .291.


Puig was lighthearted as he talked about his problems at the plate.

Asked about the absence of home runs, Puig replied, “I can’t get a hit. Of course I can’t hit a home run.”

He rejected the notion that his body was wearing down by saying he wasn’t on base enough to get fatigued.

“I was tired when I was batting .340,” he said.

But in a more serious moment, Puig said, “I have to get out of this in the 15 or 16 games that remain. If I don’t get out of it now, I don’t know if I’ll get out of it for the playoffs.”

Puig had the first of the Dodgers’ six hits in their four-run first inning against the Giants on Saturday, stretching a routine single to center field into a double. His bold run set up the first run of the game, as Matt Kemp drove him in with a double. The run was only the second scored by Puig in September.

Puig finished the game three for five with three runs. He reached base in the third inning when plate umpire Adam Hamari ruled a pitch by Tim Lincecum struck Puig on the left hand.

These days, Puig is working to simplify his swing to get it back to what it was like earlier this season.


As Puig’s slump worsened, he abandoned a toe tap in favor of a leg kick.

“What he’s doing now, he’s doing a leg kick and his whole body’s going so far forward toward the pitcher and his hands are behind him,” hitting coach Mark McGwire said. “That’s one of the reasons he’s fouling off so many of the balls he should be hitting.”

In McGwire’s opinion, Puig’s problem are simply the result of a lack of patience.

“To me, the bottom line is he’s trying too hard,” McGwire said. “He’s going out of the zone. There was a reason why he was hitting .330, driving in runs, hitting home runs. It was because he was patient at the plate. He’s trying to get five hits in one at-bat. When you do that, you tend to muscle up. When you’re muscling up, you’re wasting a lot of energy and you’re usually behind the ball and the timing’s not right.”

Puig agreed. He also continued to maintain that nothing was wrong with him physically, even though his decline in power coincided with a hip injury he suffered June 7 in Colorado.

“Everyone experiences something like this,” Puig said. “Better players than me have experienced something like this.”

Several recent news reports pointed out that Puig, rarely, if ever, takes early batting practice. Asked about that, Puig playfully rolled his eyes and said he prefers to work in indoor batting cages between the team’s regularly scheduled batting practice and the start of the game.

“I work every day,” he said. “I don’t worry about what they write about me. Since I’m not hitting right now, they have to write something.”


Manager Don Mattingly offered a similar opinion, saying, “Nobody cared that he didn’t come out early when he hit.”

But Puig said he has learned to accept negative press.

“If you’re the face of the team or one of the more important players on the team, if you don’t play well, there will always be a ruckus,” Puig said. “I understand it now. If someone else does something, it’s no big deal. If Puig does it, it’s a ruckus. That’s life.”

Still, McGwire admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing Puig work more, which is why he was pleased the center fielder was among the Dodgers who participated in early batting practice at AT&T Park on Friday afternoon.

“That’s a good sign,” McGwire said.

Puig said he appreciates that Mattingly continues to start him in center field every day as he tries to get back on track.

“I’m not producing for the team, but they’re supporting me and continue to give me the opportunity,” he said. “They’re showing confidence in me and that I’m not alone.”

Puig said he tries to make up for his lack of production with his defense.

“I’m trying not to take my at-bats with me to the outfield,” he said. “That’s something I’ve changed. I’m failing in many of my at-bats right now, but I’m not going to drop my head.”


He promised the fans he would hit again.

“I’m grateful the fans continue to cheer for me,” he said. “I ask them not to worry. I’ll be back where I was.”