MESA, Ariz. — Today’s game between the Cubs and the Dodgers hasn’t lived up to the hype of a Zack Greinke-Jon Lester matchup. Greinke wasn’t sharp. Lester was OK. Sort of whatever. As I write this it’s tied at three in the top of the fifth and we’re heading into the benches. Phil Coke is making his Cubs debut, so I suppose that’s something. Spring training: feel the excitement.
Know what is exciting, though? Yasiel Puig. He’s playing center field and hitting third for Los Angeles today. And if you just perused box scores you wouldn’t necessarily think too much of his day. A single and a run scored so far. But:
- That single was a full-blown sprint on a ball hit deep to short that most players would not have beaten out;
- After advancing to second, he was dead to rights between second and third on a grounder to third that looked as if it would go through. But he stopped, juked, jived, flopped and likely cast three spells of confusion on the third baseman, and managed to make it safely to third base. He then came around to score.
- On defense he saved one run by throwing a laser to third base on sac fly, holding a baserunner at second. If he had tried to kill the run that scored on the sac, the runner would be at third. Before the inning ended with no more damage done, there was an infield single, meaning that the throw saved a run.
- Earlier than that he hustled to cut off a ball in the gap, turning what should have been a three-run double into a two run single.
- Just now, in the bottom of the fourth, Puig robbed Anthony Rizzo of extra bases by slamming into the wall to catch a rocket he hit to right-center for the inning’s third out. Puig appeared shaken up at first, but got up under his own power and ran back to the dugout to a huge, respectful round of applause by the Sloan Park fans.
I imagine that, somewhere, someone is writing a column in which they question Yasiel Puig’s judgment for playing a spring training game at Mach 2 with his hair on fire rather than saving it for the regular season. But these are the same folks who, somehow, can watch Yasiel Puig play baseball every day and think that he is anything other than a joy and a gift of a ballplayer. One that, yes, messes up a good bit, but one which shouldn’t bug people without a vested interest in the Los Angeles Dodgers the way he does.
Oh, and one who appears to continue to all of the right things — big and little — this spring.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Camelback Ranch, spring training home of the Dodgers and White Sox, is a seriously beautiful facility.
The only drawback to it is that it faces south-southeast, so the crowd just bakes in the sun. Not sure why that is. I have to assume there was some reason for it, but sheesh, it’s brutal here. Especially if you’re a pasty mother like I am. The press box is no good place to watch a game, but it’s sort of necessary for me here.
Yasiel Puig and Erisbel Arruebarrena. As Tommy Lasorda famously said, Muy dificil.
Just before Don Mattingly came out for his daily meet-the-press, the assembled Los Angeles press was talking about how there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to ask him. This Dodgers camp is pretty quiet. The Andre Ethier situation is a bit up in the air, but there are no real position battles. No injuries of note since Jansen. We’ve entered the daily grind portion of spring training. The excitement of the new is over but we’re still weeks away from hard decisions (if any) and games with any significance. There’s a lot of talk of golf and restaurants and stuff.
A couple of legends just hanging around and talking shop. Tommy Lasorda has become something of a mascot. In public there’s a lot of Dodgers cheerleading and smiling and waving and stuff. But — not that I was eavesdropping or anything — he is still quite capable of delivering a blue streak of colorful language when telling a baseball story from, like, 40 years ago, and I’m happy about that.
Of course, he can also be pretty horrifying in just the right setting. OMG, that’s nightmare fuel.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are no accidents. For example, when you walk into the Dodgers’ clubhouse here at Camelback Ranch, you note that, high on the wall above a row of lockers is a quote from a Dodgers legend:
“If you rush in and out of the clubhouse, you rush in and out of baseball.” — Pee Wee Reese
Directly beneath that sign is the locker of one Yasiel Puig, himself known for rushing into the clubhouse with little or no time to spare on occasion. Coincidence? I think not.
Also not a coincidence: veteran Adrian Gonzalez’s locker directly next to Puig’s, despite the fact that all of the other big-time veterans — Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier — are around the corner from them. Between the Reese quote and the veteran presence, it’s almost as if the Dodgers are making sure that their young superstar is especially well-mentored.
To be fair to Mr. Puig, he was in the clubhouse bright and early today, sitting in front of his locker next to young Alex Guerrero, each having finished a workout already, and each dutifully answering the questions of the Spanish-speaking media. This despite the fact that he’s not in today’s lineup and, if he wanted to, could go hang out in the trainer’s room and be anti-social. We’ve heard tell that Puig wants to make a point to be less of a distraction this year. To just be one guy on the team and carry himself like a quiet professional. I suppose this is as good a start as any.
People who watch him every day are noticing too.
We’ve had two years to watch Yasiel Puig unleash his amazing physical gifts and baseball skills on Major League Baseball. If the appearances and talk around Camelback Ranch about Puig sharpening his focus and putting just as much mental effort into his game as physical effort are accurate, we could see something pretty damn special from the Dodgers right fielder this coming season.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly announced that new shortstop Jimmy Rollins will be the team’s leadoff hitter, explaining: “We don’t truly have anyone else who fits in that role.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but whatever.
Rollins fits the old stereotype of a leadoff hitter because he’s a middle infielder with plus speed, but the problem is that he doesn’t actually get on base much.
Last season Rollins had a .323 on-base percentage and that was actually higher than his OBPs in 2012 and 2013. With that said, offense across baseball is down so much that NL leadoff men as a whole barely topped Rollins with a .327 OBP last season and Mattingly is right that the Dodgers lack an obvious leadoff candidate with great on-base skills unless they opt against using Yasiel Puig in the middle of the lineup.
After linking out the first three entries of Jorge Arangure’s wonderful Cuba Diaries over at Vice, I somehow missed one. There are now five total. You can read all of them here. The two latest entries:
1. Baseball may actually be dying in Cuba. At least Jorge thinks so. Why? Kids like soccer more. And baseball’s structure is so strict and formalized, it is losing out to the new and the cool, two commodities that are and will continue to be in increasing supply in Cuba; and
2. Carlos Tabares: the Cuban Derek Jeter. A big star in Cuban baseball in the 1990s 2000s who is still playing today. But a star who, at 40, is too old to have taken advantage of the opportunities now opening up for the Yoan Moncadas and Yasiel Puigs of the world. In this he reflects and entire generation of Cuban people — people in their 40s and 50s — who experienced the nadir of Cuba’s economy and will be too old to truly take advantage of the New Cuba, whatever that ends up looking like.
Like the three other installments of this series, these two are not to be missed.