A hamstring injury to the Los Angeles Dodgers' Carl Crawford gave MLB's prospect watchers the debut of highly hyped outfielder Yasiel Puig. He was recalled from Double-A Chattanooga in time for Monday night's affair against the San Diego Padres. And based on his first game, it appears Puig may have what it takes to stick with the big club, both at the plate and in the field.
Puig's biggest contribution of the night came on defense (top). With Los Angeles leading 2-1 in the top of the ninth, closer Brandon League got Jedd Gyorko to ground out, then walked Chris Denorfia to put on the tying run. The next batter, Kyle Blanks, lifted a long drive to deep right field. Puig caught up to it at the wall, then fired to first as Denorfia scrambled to get back to the bag. Puig's throw, a laser from the outfield, got to first base a second or two ahead of Denorfia for the double play to close out the win. (L.A. came into the game 1-4 over their last five.)
On offense, Puig rapped two base hits in four trips to the plate. Slotted in the leadoff spot in Crawford's place, he lofted a flyball to center field in the first inning that dropped in front of Will Venable for his first career Major League hit.
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The 22-year-old, who defected from Cuba in 2012 and signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with Los Angeles that June, was rated the No. 47 prospect in the game by Baseball America before the season. He tore up Spring Training with a .526 average in 52 at-bats, prompting many Dodgers fans to suggest he head west with the big club. But Puig was optioned down at the end of March, ostensibly to get some more professional at-bats: The youngster had only 95 plate appearances in the minors.
Puig had little trouble with Double-A, racking up a .313/.383/.599 line in 167 plate appearances for the Lookouts, and the recent rash of injuries to the Dodgers in the outfield — not just Crawford, but also Matt Kemp (hamstring) — gave Los Angeles the excuse to call up Puig and stick him in right field, moving Andre Ethier to center.
Puig's second at-bat resulted in a weak groundball to third base on a breaking ball that badly fooled him. But in his third at-bat, he ripped a line drive to first base that glanced off Blanks' glove for his second hit. Puig got one final turn in the eighth with a man on second and one out, but tapped a grounder to third that cost the Dodgers the lead runner, though Puig got on via fielder's choice.
Puig became the first Dodger in seven years to record at least two hits in his first big-league game. The last to pull the trick was Russell Martin, who went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI on May 5, 2006, against Milwaukee. A third hit would've put Puig in some rare company: Only seven Dodgers have recorded three hits in their MLB debut. The last to do so was Mike Piazza on Sept. 1, 1992, when he went 3-for-3 with a double and a walk against the Cubs. No Dodger has ever picked up four or more hits in their first game.
Puig wasn't the only young Dodger to have a big game, though. His compatriot in left field, Scott Van Slyke, drove in what proved to be the winning run with a solo home run to left in the bottom of the second.
Van Slyke, who added a single in the seventh, has given the Dodgers a lift off the bench with Kemp and Crawford hurting. Monday's blast was his fifth of the season, and the rookie now has 13 hits, 10 for extra bases, in 49 at-bats since being called up May 10.
The 26-year-old Van Slyke, son of longtime Pirates outfielder Andy Van Slyke and owner of a fantastic Fu Manchu mustache, spent a brief spell with Los Angeles in 2012, managing only a .167/.196/.315 line in 57 plate appearances. But a .397/.503/.733 line and nine homers at Triple-A Albuquerque this year got him noticed by the Dodgers' front office. For a 14th-round draft pick in 2005 out of high school who seemed destined for a life as a Triple-A veteran, both Van Slyke and the Dodgers have to be thrilled he's now making the most of his MLB opportunity. (GIF up top courtesy the fine folks at MLBGifs.com.)