Yasiel Puig, expected to make triple-A debut Sunday, still hasn’t reported to Oklahoma City
And, on the third day since the Dodgers demoted Yasiel Puig to their triple-A team here, there remained no sign of Puig.
Not in the team store, where fans can buy $200 jerseys with the names of Clayton Kershaw or Adrian Gonzalez on the back.
Not in the clubhouse, where there is no locker reserved for Puig.
And not in the city, which meant the Oklahoma City Dodgers played Will Venable in right field on Friday. Manager Bill Haselman said he expected Puig to join the team in Iowa on Sunday.
Haselman said his job would be the same with Puig as it would be with any player: to support and challenge him, to make him a better player and get him to the major leagues.
“There’s really not a whole lot to it,” Haselman said. “I don’t know how much of a story it really makes.”
This is no routine demotion, not with Puig two years removed from a major league All-Star game appearance and still one of the most popular players among the Dodgers’ fan base, yet with no assurance he ever will play for the team again.
Haselman said he has not talked with Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts about how to handle Puig, even though he said the two men do talk about other players. Haselman said he has discussed Puig with Gabe Kapler, the Dodgers’ minor league director, but he declined to say whether his challenges to Puig would be more about the mental or the fundamental.
“Anything that has to do with him becoming the best baseball player he can be,” Haselman said. “No different than I do with these guys.”
Puig’s ascent was so rapid that he never has played at the triple-A level. Jack Murphy, 28, the veteran backup catcher in his eighth minor league season, said he believed Puig would understand the mission here.
“If you play well enough, you get out of here,” Murphy said.
Oklahoma City catcher Austin Barnes, who has had five stints with the Dodgers over the past two seasons, said he never had a problem with Puig and said the outfielder had “superstar talent” at a young age.
Barnes noted that, at 26, he has yet to establish himself in the major leagues. Puig is 25, and was in his fourth season in the majors before the demotion.
Haselman said the Dodgers have not provided him with an estimate of how long they expect Puig to stay at Oklahoma City.
The Dodgers want Puig to get into a work routine before games, a team official said. That could be complicated by the working conditions here. Oklahoma City is in a stretch of playing 53 games in 54 days, and the summer heat often compels the team to cancel batting practice on the field.
The team took an abbreviated batting practice Friday, the official said, only to satisfy a promotion in which fans were promised the opportunity to shag fly balls in the outfield while the players hit.
On hot days, players generally are limited to batting practice in the cage. The Dodgers will be interested to see whether Puig does so with enthusiasm, and how receptive he might be to instruction.
“Yasiel is at a crossroads here,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, told MLB Network Radio on Thursday.
“Taking on that desire to learn and improve can set his career on one track, and if not it’ll go down the other. Just in the conversations I’ve had with him the last few days, I’m very, very optimistic about it.”
Puig could start slow. If he starts Sunday, it would be his second start in 18 days.
By reporting directly to Des Moines, Puig would be spared the eight-hour overnight bus ride the Oklahoma City team will take after Saturday’s game. But Oklahoma City buses back home four days later, returning for an eight-game homestand.
Michael Byrnes, general manager of the Oklahoma City team, said it is difficult for minor league teams to market the presence of major league players, since they can return to the majors at any time. The most established players arrive on short notice for a brief rehabilitation assignment — not like Puig, on a demotion of indefinite length.
“I truly have no comparison to a player like him coming for an extended period of time,” Byrnes said.
Still, Byrnes said a Puig promotion is “not currently in the plans.” But, in what likely would be his first home game with Oklahoma City, Puig might face a painful reminder of his minor league present.
The promotion that night: Corey Seager bobblehead night.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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