JOSE M. ROMERO, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — While some of his teammates in the Dodgers outfield are resting minor injuries, Yasiel Puig is working to win back his starting job.
The right fielder, a one-time phenom, was sent to Triple-A last August.
“I’m preparing every day to have a good season and to help my team, and to help myself keep my friendships,” Puig said in Spanish after playing 5 1/2 innings and getting three at-bats Wednesday in the Dodgers’ 7-2 loss to a Milwaukee Brewers split squad.
The one-time All-Star was once a budding superstar, but lower numbers and, ostensibly, actions inside and outside the clubhouse that annoyed his teammates eventually led to a demotion last year.
Puig burst onto the scene in Los Angeles with a breakout 2013 season at age 22 that saw him take over in right field after being called up in early June. He hit .319 with 19 home runs in 104 games, then added 13 hits in the postseason. Brash in his playing style, he was a terror on the basepaths with his speed and size, and had eight outfield assists from his position.
Puig was an All-Star in 2014, and the Dodgers looked set at the position for years to come. Then came significant drop-offs in production, more incidents that rankled teammates and injuries over 2015 and 2016, and by August of last season the Dodgers had had enough.
When the Dodgers acquired Josh Reddick at the trade deadline, Puig was sent down. Reddick is with the Houston Astros now, so Puig has an opportunity to be an everyday player again and is getting more playing time now before Andre Ethier, Andrew Toles and Trayce Thompson return in the coming days.
Puig acknowledged before this year’s spring training that he was to blame for his behavior. He has said he has a new focus this year and agrees with why the Dodgers sent him to the minors.
“It was tough, but you have to keep working. The past is the past and I’m not looking back on it,” he said. “I’m still happy to be with this team and I want to help the team win a World Series.”
Puig survived trade speculation last year and is trying to make the most of his playing time in spring training. He has the most starts in right field among Dodgers outfielders, seven including Wednesday, and has logged the most innings.
The Dodgers could ultimately decide to platoon Puig and another Dodger in right field, perhaps Toles, Ethier or Franklin Gutierrez. But manager Dave Roberts likes what he sees so far.
Puig doesn’t appear to be a pariah in the Dodgers clubhouse. He makes conversation, jokes in English and is observing his teammates’ play.
“As far as in the clubhouse, he’s doing everything he’s supposed to do. He’s doing what everyone else is doing and working hard, preparing,” Roberts said. “As far as in-game, the defense has got to be the defense, which is plus, and for him it’s about going out there and having good at-bats.”
Puig popped out twice Wednesday but hit the ball hard his third at-bat. He’s 4 for 19 so far in spring training.
“The more he has those consistent at-bats, Yasiel’s talent, it’ll take care of itself,” Roberts said.
NOTE: The Dodgers have Thursday off, then starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Julio Urias are scheduled to pitch Friday against Texas. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has pitched in one major-league game since 2015 due to shoulder surgery and setbacks, is on tap for his spring training debut on Saturday. … Starter Scott Kazmir (hip) threw a bullpen session Wednesday, but won’t pitch in a game for at least a week, Roberts said.
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