LOS ANGELES — Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig found himself back in hot water and back in the manager’s office on Wednesday for what appeared to be a lack of game preparation — or perhaps a lack of effort.
There was no direct explanation, but Puig was pulled after the fourth inning of the Dodgers’ 4-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. The reason, he said, was a failure to prepare defensively in right field.
“I wasn’t preparing well for each pitch,” Puig said through a translator. “It was a good decision.”
But manager Don Mattingly, who insisted he wanted to keep his reasons for the benching in-house, seems to be growing exasperated with his talented wunderkind. On the team’s last road trip, he fined Puig for arriving late to the clubhouse in Miami, and he has talked several times with him about fundamental mistakes such as risky base running and missing the cutoff man on throws from right field.
Mattingly would not directly address questions about why he pulled Puig and replaced him with Skip Schumaker in the top of the fifth, but it could have been connected to a first-inning play in which Puig failed to slide into second base to break up a double play.
“It’s not an action against Yasiel,” Mattingly said. “Today was a simple decision, really. At that point in the game, Skip gave us a better chance to win. Anything with Yasiel, or any other players, I’d like to keep in-house. I don’t think there’s any reason to discuss reasons why this, that or whatever. It doesn’t really matter.”
But it was serious enough for Mattingly to have a closed-door meeting in his office with Puig and general manager Ned Colletti after the game. The Dodgers have even turned to their veteran players to approach Puig about fixing his flaws.
Puig is well-liked by his teammates, especially Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe, but a few have not hesitated to reprimand him when he repeats on-field mistakes.
“He’s young. He’s going to have to learn,” pitcher Ricky Nolasco said. “It’s not going to be a distraction for this team. A lot of the veterans on the team will talk to him.”
Nolasco admitted he didn’t know what infractions Puig had committed in Wednesday’s game, although he added, “We know him a little bit different than the media does, but what he was doing today wasn’t acceptable.”
After he was taken out, Puig disappeared into the clubhouse then emerged a few minutes later and watched the rest of the game from the bench.
“I wanted to finish the game,” he said, “but when it was explained why, I agreed with the explanation. I understood that my teammate could also give 100 percent and do a good job, as well.”
The Dodgers have handled Puig delicately since he was called up from the minors on June 3 and proceeded to light a fire under the Dodgers. He arrived with a seven-year, $42 million contract and a disdain for giving interviews, but his spectacular play earned him instant stardom among fans.
No matter how much the Dodgers have tried to correct his mistakes, he kept repeating them. When he missed a cutoff man but still threw out a runner, it confirmed his belief that he could throw out anyone from any position on the field.
Mattingly, asked if he thinks Puig understands the message he’s trying to get across, said: “I hope so. I don’t always know that, but I talk to him like I would talk to my kids, honestly. I try to be honest with him and representing the whole ballclub with some decisions I make.”
In this case, it was a decision to replace him after two plate appearances — a walk that preceded the double play and a strikeout in the third inning.
Mattingly said Puig will be back in the starting lineup Friday, against the San Diego Padres on Prime Ticket at Dodger Stadium. Puig indicated he’ll be ready to play.
At the very least, the postgame meeting with Mattingly and Colletti and the public benching should have registered with the young player.
“I thought the meeting went well,” Puig said. “We talked about not only what I, but 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’ll give 100 percent. If I’m not, I’ll prepare to make sure I’m ready when my turn comes.”