The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first two games of the 2014 MLB regular season over the Arizona Diamondbacks, but a source of conflict is already emerging between two key pillars to the club's success.
Updates from Thursday, March 27
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne has an update on a meeting between Puig and Mattingly:
A source described Puig as "very open" during the meeting and receptive to what was said.
"I asked them to please keep helping me," Puig told ESPN. "Specifically with baserunning and hitting my cutoff man. I want them to help me with everything they can."
The meeting previously was described as being between the second-year outfielder and the manager, but Mattingly wanted the entire team to have a forum to address the subject in-house, rather than have frustrations boil over or leak out through the media. Veterans Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe were the most vocal players during the meeting, sources said.
"It was good for everybody. Donnie just wanted to squash this, and it did," one veteran, who asked not to be named, told ESPN.
After the Dodgers' 7-5 win over the Diamondbacks on Sunday, Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly implied that prodigious outfielder Yasiel Puig was not hurt enough to sit out during the bottom of the ninth inning. When asked what ailment caused Puig to stay in the dugout, Mattingly told reporters:
I guess his back. Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I'm not sure if they're going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday, maybe. I'm not quite sure what we'll do. We may not do anything. I'm not sure.
Los Angeles Times reporter Dylan Hernandez added more context:
Mattingly said earlier today he is unsure of when Puig is really hurt and when he isn't. Even now, doesn't know is back problem is serious.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) March 23, 2014
Mattingly benched Puig twice last season for disciplinary reasons, per ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon. This spring, the outfielder arrived 26 pounds heavier than his previous playing weight, according to Saxon.
Puig struggled through spring training, only notching five hits on 41 at-bats, but busted out in a big way on Sunday, going 3-for-5 at the plate with a double and two RBI.
He burst onto the scene as a rookie last season with his cannon arm in the outfield and an exciting combination of power and athleticism. However, he made two gaffes on Saturday that resulted in unnecessary outs and could have proved costly for Los Angeles.
The good news is that Puig's blunders didn't cost the Dodgers a game. He also has 160 more games to reconcile his differences with Mattingly—if the two parties are willing to do so.
Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times weighed in on the situation, implying that while Puig's talent will keep him with the Dodgers for years to come, he must clean up his act before it wears too thin with his manager and teammates:
Puig is not going anywhere. And if kids typically don’t grow up overnight, they do hopefully show signs of maturing. All the speeding tickets and dubious throws and silly baserunning mistakes don’t indicate that’s exactly well underway. If Mattingly is frustrated with Puig, imagine his teammates’ reaction. It’s a clubhouse filled with professionals who take their jobs very seriously. Then there’s the wild one, almost impervious to counsel.
How will the Dodgers fare in 2014?
These antics Puig has displayed early in his career are somewhat to be somewhat, given the instant success he achieved at pro baseball's highest level and the fact that he's just 23. It is a bit alarming, though, considering the Dodgers don't have many viable options in the outfield behind Puig in 2014 and beyond.
All-Star Matt Kemp is dealing with a left ankle injury that may be career-threatening, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, and he did not play in Australia. The squad placed Kemp on the disabled list before the opening game, too.
Thus, it's important for Puig and the Dodgers to figure this out. No matter how talented a player is, he is expendable if he refuses to be part of the team. The Dodgers will do everything they can to work out the Mattingly-Puig spat in-house before even considering trading him, but the fact that issues are surfacing this early in the season is discouraging.
Los Angeles won the National League West crown last season and has all the tools to make a deep run and threaten for the World Series. With the immense contributions Puig can provide in that effort, he must become less of a wild card and more of a stable force for good on the field and in the clubhouse.