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Trying to tame the phenomenon that is the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig

August 19, 2013|By Steve Dilbeck
  • Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig celebrates after scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning against the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium earlier this month.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig celebrates after scoring the winning run… (Paul Buck / European Pressphoto…)

It’s the greatest show in ball. Overflowing exuberance, crazy talent and as  predictable as a Louis C.K. monologue.

With Yasiel Puig you could get at any moment a game winner or the bonehead play of the day. Whatever he comes up with, chances are good it will be spectacular.

Puig is part car wreck, part new-age jet car breaking the sound barrier. He’s a walking spectacle. It’s hard to take your eyes off him.

Puig is almost playing by his own rules, playing his own game. Which makes for both great and frightening viewing.

He is testing the patience of a patient man in Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. Puig wants to do everything all the time, even when that is plainly a very bad idea.

So one minute you applaud as he streaks into second on a bloop single to left to set up the winning run, and the next cover your eyes as he tries to steal third with two outs and the cleanup hitter at the plate. Your mouth gapes as he nails a runner trying to advance to third from first on a single, and the next gaze heavenward as he overthrows the cutoff man and allows the go-head run into scoring position.

He’s steak tartare in a league of seasoned filets. The Dodgers knew all along that he was raw and wanted to give him experience in the minors to polish the edges of this diamond, but circumstances dictated he be brought up after less than one full season after defecting from Cuba.

And he’s helped turn the Dodgers’ season around, providing the kind of energy and daring that previously were often wanting.

Only now the Dodgers are faced with having to teach him at baseball’s highest level. Instruct him in some of the fundamentals they know better in Williamsport, Pa. They tell him, he nods a lot and then goes out and makes the same mistakes.

On Sunday, Puig, 22, was picked off first and once again overthrew the cutoff man. Mattingly hasn’t hit full exasperation mode yet, but he’s made a few visits.

“Maybe he needs a day to rest and see the game,” Mattingly said after Sunday’s game.

Sounds like an excellent idea. Something needs to grab his attention. Only it won't be tonight when the Dodgers open a four-game series in Miami. Puig’s parents live in Miami, as do many of his fellow Cuban expatriates. Not really the ideal time for tough love, so Puig is in the lineup bating second.

But at some point, Puig’s overenthusiasm and super confidence are going to cost the Dodgers, and they cannot afford for that to happen in the postseason. So they have another six weeks to keep his on-the-job training program going at a high level.

It’s a fine line, trying to bridle a rare young buck. You certainly don’t want those reins held too tightly. You still want him to be Puig, just a wiser, slightly more under control Puig.

His development will be key, not just to the rest of this season, but the team’s future. You don’t want to kill his swagger, just his recklessness.

For now, it’s absolutely fascinating viewing.

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