Held out of the starting lineup to improve his focus and fined by Manager Don Mattingly to improve his punctuality, Puig came off the bench Tuesday and hit the first pitch he saw for a tiebreaking eighth-inning home run, leading the Dodgers to 6-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.
"He definitely has a flair for the dramatic," teammate Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "There aren't too many guys like that."
Said infielder Nick Punto: "I wasn't surprised. He's really talented with a bat in his hand."
The Dodgers are also more talented with Puig holding a bat in his hand at the plate rather than sitting empty-handed on the bench. Yet, that's where he started Tuesday night, partly because he was fighting the worst slump of his short career, one that had left him hitless in his last 11 at-bats and two for 17 on the Dodgers' trip.
But he has also made a number of fundamental errors, both in the field and on the bases, something else that played a role in Mattingly's decision to hold him out of the lineup.
It was a decision Puig was the last to learn of since he showed up at the ballpark at 4:50 p.m., 35 minutes late, earning an undisclosed fine.
"All the things that we see are part of the maturity of a guy that's coming from a different country and … all of sudden and having huge success. And part of our job is to help them mature and handle all that," Mattingly said. "I don't know if we can do that overnight."
Tuesday was supposed to be the start of that transformation, with Mattingly forcing his petulant star to sit and watch the other kids play. But with the Dodgers hitting into three double plays and going three for 12 with runners in scoring position through the first six innings of a 4-4 tie, Mattingly called Puig out of the doghouse and sent him into the game as part of a double switch.
Two innings later, Puig golfed the first pitch of the eighth inning off the padding atop the left-center-field wall, bouncing it onto a concrete stairway beyond the fence. A run-scoring single by Tim Federowicz drove in an insurance run an inning later, then Kenley Jansen closed it out with a perfect ninth inning, ending the Dodgers' losing streak at two games.
Asked whether he felt pressure in that situation, Puig shook his head
"The minute you start feeling pressure, you're going to have difficulty with a lot of pitches," Puig said.
That confidence left Hairston hoping five innings on the bench was punishment enough for Puig.
"You have to remember he's 22-years-old. And a lot has been thrown in his way," Hairston said. "Hopefully, he'll learn from it and grow from it and become a better player."
But third baseman Juan Uribe, whose two hits Tuesday gave him five in two games with the Marlins, encouraged Puig not to change.
"Tomorrow," Uribe shouted at Puig as he left "get here at 5:40."
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