Yasiel Puig's play in the Dodgers' outfield has been somewhat lackadaisical of late. (Chris Williams/Icon SMI)
Yasiel Puig’s afternoon was a short one on Wednesday, as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly replaced him in right field with Skip Schumaker at the top of the fifth inning. You knew, when Mattingly initially offered his reasoning, that something was going unsaid. “I felt like at that point in the game, Skip gave us a better chance to win,” Mattingly explained. Schumaker might be many things, but his is not the type of talent that usually leads a manager to yank one of baseball’s top phenoms halfway through a game -- a player who, notes the Elias Sports Bureau, just reached 100 career hits in just 285 at-bats, faster than any other active player except Ichiro Suzuki.
Ricky Nolasco -- who continued his outstanding run as a Dodger, by the way, pitching eight shutout innings against the Cubs in which he struck out 11 and allowed just three hits -- said cryptically, of Puig, “He knows what he did.”
Soon it emerged that the reason for Puig’s benching was disciplinary. In the first inning, he failed to slide into second to attempt to break up a double play, and he also lackadaisically caught a few balls in the outfield and seemed a bit unfocused out there. Those might not normally constitute benching-worthy offenses, but they came on the heels of several other mildly irksome incidents, including his being fined for arriving late for a game in Miami last week, and Mattingly apparently had seen enough.
After the game, and a closed door meeting with Mattingly and G.M. Ned Colletti, Puig told reporters that he recognized that he wasn’t preparing properly in the outfield, and that it was a good decision to take him out. The Dodgers have done a fine job handling the Cuban-born Puig -- who, after all, is just 22 years old, and is having to adjust to not just an entirely new league and style of baseball, but an entirely new culture and set of freedoms -- by using a strategy of gentle course correction, as opposed to heavy-handed discipline, when he veers off onto the rumble strips. That’s really all that Wednesday’s benching will likely amount to.