LA trouble? Mattingly, Dodgers forgive Puig … yet again
LOS ANGELES — Don Mattingly was in a forgiving mood Friday. Again.
He has a young, unpredictable outfielder who drives too fast, shows up late and makes head-scratching mistakes in the field. But the Dodgers manager continues to exercise patience, no matter how many times Yasiel Puig disappoints him.
The latest was classic Puig. He arrived late to the ballpark Friday morning, after his teammates had dressed and were on the Dodger Stadium field for their morning stretch. They all got the same text message about when to report; Puig didn’t.
So Mattingly benched the Cuban outfielder for the home opener, a punitive action that carried some weight but may not fully register with Puig. Every time he commits a transgression, he is quickly and easily forgiven.
The Dodgers chalk it up to his youth, but Puig is 23 now, a millionaire and a celebrity in a town that bestows that title to anyone with a potential for stardom. He has that. What he doesn’t have is maturity.
The Dodgers want to give him time. It’s no big deal, they say. He made a mistake. Let’s move on.
"I guess it’s a big deal because it’s Yasiel," Mattingly said after the Dodgers lost to the San Francisco Giants 8-4. "It was just a situation where he was late today."
The domino effect was that by sitting Puig, Mattingly had an opportunity to start Matt Kemp, who came off the disabled list but was not in the original starting lineup. Kemp was clearly distraught, scowling his way through batting practice, or until he found out he was the starting center fielder.
But Puig’s tardiness put Kemp in there, and he delivered an RBI double in the fifth inning. He will probably start Saturday’s game against left-hander Madison Bumgarner, but he steered clear of any talk relating to his status as an everyday player.
"I can’t answer that question," Kemp said.
Mattingly will have to perform a juggling act with his lineup if Kemp proves to be as healthy as he looked Friday following his rehab from ankle surgery six months ago. Kemp has repeatedly said he’s not a fourth outfielder, but Mattingly wanted to start the three players – Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier — who played throughout the spring and in the first five games of the regular season.
He would have started Puig on Friday, but that didn’t turn out as planned.
For his part, Puig was contrite after the game, admitting his guilt and insisting he asked his teammates for forgiveness. Of course, they forgave.
"It was my fault," he said through a translator. "I didn’t play because I made a mistake. It was my fault. I don’t blame anyone."
His teammates, he said, gave him a pass. He is too talented to scold or reprimand publicly, at least until his violations pile up to an intolerable level.
"They thought it was OK when I owned up to it and talked to them and apologized for being late," Puig said. "It was obviously my first Opening Day at home. It wasn’t something I had planned to do or wanted to do. They said it was OK. They accepted my apology."
Mattingly said it was OK, too. He accepted Puig’s excuse, or lack of one. He said Puig was sitting at home, believing he didn’t need to arrive at the ballpark until later in the morning.
"I think he truly thought it was later," Mattingly said. "That doesn’t keep you from being responsible, but I think he was humbled by it. I thought he handled it well. It was a mistake; we move on. I really don’t feel like it’s a huge deal."
But it is, because it’s Yasiel Puig. But how long can the Dodgers let him slide? When do they take a stand — bench him for a series, perhaps even send him back to the minors to show they mean business.
Maybe never. They need him, and they know it.
"He’s a good kid," Mattingly said. "Does he have to grow and get better? Yeah, but there’s a lot of guys like that."