After early removal, Puig vows to give '100 percent'
Mattingly keeps reason for decision 'in-house,' but cites rookie outfielder's effort
By Ken Gurnick / 8/28/2013 7:54 P.M. ET
LOS ANGELES -- The media guide says Don Mattingly has three children, but then there's 22-year-old Yasiel Puig, and the "timeout" the Dodgers manager gave the rookie for questionable "effort" in the middle of Wednesday's game was strictly of the parental variety.
Mattingly benched Puig at the start of the fifth inning in the Dodgers' 4-0 win over the Cubs, overshadowing Ricky Nolasco's eight scoreless innings. It forced a first-place team into full damage-control mode, fighting off a firestorm that resulted in closed-door postgame meetings involving president Stan Kasten, general manager Ned Colletti, Mattingly and Puig.
"I talk to him like I talk to my kids, honestly," Mattingly said after emerging from a 40-minute media lockout. "I try to be honest and represent the whole ballclub with the decisions I make and I feel, in a sense, it was in the best interests of the team."
Puig referred to preparation. Starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco said what Puig did was "unacceptable," but didn't elaborate. By the time the Dodgers opened the clubhouse to the media, most of the players had left.
Mattingly referred to Puig's effort, but he did not specifically explain what Puig did or didn't do to be replaced by Skip Schumaker on defense, saying he wanted to keep it "in-house," even though it happened during a game.
"I felt the meeting went well," Puig said through an interpreter. "We talked about what I and every player needs to do to prepare for every pitch. I thought it was a good meeting. If I'm in the lineup on Friday, I will make sure to give 100 percent. If not, I will prepare to make sure I'm ready when my turn comes."
Mattingly said he didn't think this had to become a "monster issue," and he expected Puig to be back in the lineup when play resumes Friday night. "We're here to win, and Yasiel is a great player who gives us the best chance to win on a daily basis," Mattingly said.
Mattingly said Puig's failure to slide into second base on Carl Crawford's first-inning double-play grounder, and his lackadaisical demeanor catching fly balls "could be true and maybe led to what went on today," but he wouldn't detail the final straw. At the plate, Puig walked, but also looked bad striking out.
"I wasn't preparing well for each pitch," Puig said through an interpreter, unclear whether he meant on offense or defense, or both. "It was a good decision. He felt Schumaker could come in and do a better job there."
So fans are left to read between the lines. Mattingly repeatedly said he felt "at that point in the game, Skip gave us a better chance to win today," he also used a key word -- effort:
"I thought I would get a better effort from Skip," he said.
Even though the benching left the club further short-handed in position players, Mattingly dished out the discipline to his undisciplined right fielder while demonstrating to the rest of the club that Puig won't receive preferential treatment.
Puig spent the rest of the game in the dugout. One inning he sat at the far end of the bench in the sun, alone, bouncing a baseball, with teammates giving him plenty of space. Later, he resumed interacting with teammates.
Eight days earlier, Puig was left out of the starting lineup after throwing a dugout tantrum because of a called strike by home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck. He entered that game in a double-switch and homered. At the time, Mattingly said the day off was a baseball decision as Puig was 0-for-11 at the plate. That same day, Puig was late to the ballpark and was fined by Mattingly.
Puig's brash behavior in the Minor Leagues last year took on folk-legend status. He was on his best behavior during Spring Training, when he tore up the Cactus League, but after opening the season at Double-A Chattanooga, he was arrested for speeding, reckless driving and driving without proof of insurance.