PHOENIX — Kirk Gibson sees a lot of his younger self in rambunctious, sometimes reckless Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig.
“That’s refreshing to watch,” said Gibson, the Diamondbacks manager.
“Honestly, even from an opponent’s point of view, that’s refreshing.”
Former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson once said Gibson played 150 percent at all times, and nothing made Gibson prouder.
Puig, a Cuban emigre who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract last summer, seems to have that gene.
Puig plays fully revved, and he has taken the NL by storm in his first six weeks, hitting .409 with eight home runs, eight doubles and five stolen bases. He doubled a runner off first base after catching a fly ball on the warning track in right field in his major league debut, drawing immediate comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero. At the same time, he was thrown out trying to steal third base with the Dodgers’ Nos. 4 and 5 hitters coming up yesterday, a learning experience.
Manager Don Mattingly has found a lot to like in his 23-year old right fielder.
“Pretty much all of it,” Mattingly said. “He’s a really aggressive kid. He’s shown power. He’s shown power to all fields. He’s made some plays defensively. He plays with a lot of energy. There hasn’t really been a downside to this point.
“I want him to stay aggressive. We’ve talked about it a number of times. We want him to play the game, play the situations of the game. When is the right time? When is the wrong time?”
Throttling down is a lesson that takes some time to learn. Gibson won a World Series with Detroit in 1984 and with Los Angeles in 1988, when he was the NL MVP, but his never-give-an-inch style left him with a limp and a scar on his leg from a severe hamstring injury and an arm that cannot fully rotate.
It is the way son Cam plays in Michigan’s Northwoods summer wooden-bat league.
“We had the conversation with him. He runs all out on every ball. He says ‘I can’t play any other way,” Gibson said.
“Puig’s going to tell you the same thing. Kirk Gibson when he was 21 years old would have said the same thing. That’s admirable. I think that’s a great trait.”
What did it take to slow down?
“Just playing, living and learning, hurting yourself stupidly,” Gibson said.
Puig will get there, Gibson is sure, even if it means the Dodgers will have a weapon to combat Paul Goldschmidt for many years to come.
“In the end, in the finished product, he has a wealth of physical talent and positive energy that he brings to his team and to the game,” Gibson said.
“The wisdom part, he’s going to start acquiring the wisdom over time too. As they get closer together, that’s when you really have a finished product of someone who’s powerful and more consistent in big-time situations.” Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter