Yasiel Puig says all the right things in return to Dodgers, who then lose to the Padres
The last few days had not been comfortable ones for Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers were about to call up a handful of players from the minor leagues, and he had no idea whether he would be one of them.
He was. He flew here Thursday and reported to Dodger Stadium on Friday, where a small group of teammates welcomed him back and warned him to behave himself.
It was an awkward homecoming for Puig. He had conquered the minor leagues in the month since the Dodgers had banished him, but they did not treat him as a conquering hero. They tried to trade him before they sent him down, and they tried again before they called him back up. They had moved his locker clear across the clubhouse, and no longer did he enjoy a vacant locker next to his own.
And, for all the entirely appropriate talk about whether he had somehow transformed himself into a better teammate and a coachable player, the Dodgers bluntly acknowledged Puig had not been recalled solely as a reward for good behavior.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “We haven’t hit left-handed pitching.”
The Dodgers faced a left-hander Friday. They rank last in the major leagues in on-base-plus-slugging-percentage against left-handers. So, in his first game with the Dodgers since July 31, Puig played right field and batted fifth.
He singled twice in four at-bats, but the Dodgers lost to the San Diego Padres, 4-2. Yangervis Solarte hit a home run off Adam Liberatore in the eighth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Julio Urias, in what might have been his final start of the season, gave up two runs over 51/3 innings, giving up three hits but also hitting three batters.
In his last four starts, the 20-year-old Urias went 3-0 with a 1.61 earned-run average. It is likely that the Dodgers will move him to the bullpen soon to conserve his innings.
Puig met with about two dozen media members before the game and said all the right things. He insisted he was not embarrassed by his exile to triple-A Oklahoma City.
“It wasn’t embarrassing. I earned the demotion,” he said through an interpreter. “I feel like I am a better person, and I am here now to show it.”
Roberts said he had gotten positive reports from Oklahoma City about Puig’s progress on the field (he batted .348 with a .994 OPS) and off the field.
“He abided,” Roberts said.
Roberts sounded a tad pained as he provided a partial list of the fundamental weaknesses Puig had been directed to address.
“Being on time, watching the game, communicating with teammates, not being on the end of the bench, hustling — all those things that lend themselves to helping a team win,” Roberts said.
Roberts and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, consulted several veteran players — Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Utley among them — before deciding to recall Puig. Roberts spoke with Puig by phone Thursday and in person Friday, and then Turner led a small group of teammates that met with him Friday as well.
“That’s something they did on their own,” Roberts said. “There’s a little awkwardness from Yasiel to come back after being optioned out. They wanted to reopen lines of communication and put out expectations and welcome him back.”
Said Puig: “They explained to me what they needed from me.”
That is far from the first such discussion Puig has had with his teammates. Perhaps it will be the last one, either because Puig really means it this time when he says he has shaped up, or because he and the Dodgers will tolerate one last month with one another before he is traded.
The Dodgers shopped him in July, before they acquired outfielder Josh Reddick from the Oakland Athletics. They engaged in trade talks as recently as this week, according to Fox Sports, when the Milwaukee Brewers were awarded Puig on a waiver claim and the two teams discussed the framework of a deal that would have sent Puig to Milwaukee and outfielder Ryan Braun to L.A. The Dodgers can revisit that deal in the winter and they can shop Puig to the other 28 teams as well.
“I don’t decide those things,” Puig said. “If I’m here in Los Angeles, I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy the city. If it’s with another team, that’s something I can’t control.”
Pitcher J.P. Howell, one of Puig’s clubhouse allies, said he was happy that Puig walked around the clubhouse Friday, taking the initiative to greet teammates individually upon his return. However, Howell said, the time for letting Yasiel be Yasiel was long over.
“Be Yasiel,” Howell said, “but at the same time, let’s grow up a little here.”
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