This won’t make it into tomorrow’s editions, so here’s what happened in the Dodgers’ late game against the Kansas City Royals:
The air, still as a mime at Camelback Ranch, was officially 1 mph in various directions. The game time temperature was recorded as 88 degrees, but after a sweltering day in the 90s it felt cooler. All of this is significant because it mimicked a perfect day for baseball in Cuba, judging by the way Yasiel Puig felt at home against the Royals.
The Dodgers’ 22-year-old prospect greeted Kansas City right-hander Yordano Ventura with a towering opposite field home run in the first inning that landed roughly 400 feet from home plate, on a grassy berm in right-center field. In the third inning Puig ripped a line-drive single to right field, a ball hit so hard that he was nearly thrown out at first base by Jeff Francoeur. Puig was safe by a more narrow margin when he stole second base ahead of the throw from catcher Brett Hayes. It was his first stolen base of the spring.
Right-hander Stephen Fife started for the Dodgers and didn’t allow a run through his first four innings. He did smack an RBI double to left-center field that momentarily extended the Dodgers’ lead to 4-0. The Royals got to Fife with a run in the top of fifth, but Puig retaliated by singling and scoring a run in the bottom of the inning.
The single was lined straight at the head of Royals pitcher Everett Teaford, who barely ducked out of the way. Puig took second base when Juan Uribe sliced a shallow pop-up down the right-field line. Rather than taking a small lead off first, Puig kept one foot glued to the bag and had to sprint for second when the ball dropped in front of Francoeur. He beat the throw — again, by a hair.
The next batter, Alfredo Amezaga, dropped a bloop single into shallow left-center field, sending Puig to third base with a foot-first slide. Puig popped up, watched the throw arc lazily toward the infield, and sprinted home with the Dodgers’ fifth run without prompt from third-base coach Tim Wallach.
Puig doesn’t speak English, otherwise we’d be tempted to conclude he was motivated by Don Mattingly‘s proclamation Thursday that Puig is better served beginning the season in the minors. In Spanish, with Dodgers coach Eddie Oropeza translating, Puig said he isn’t worried about the numbers game that may cost him a spot on the Opening Day roster.
“I can’t do anything about that,” he said.
Puig finished 3 for 3, raising his Cactus League batting average to .459. That level of success has surprised even the young outfielder himself. After recovering from a staph infection in his right elbow, Puig hit .232 in 20 games for Indios de Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican League last winter. “I didn’t have time to work before going to Puerto Rico after the elbow surgery,” he said.
Puig’s platitudes about working hard may be cliche, but they are at least true. With a $42 million contract, he’ll need a spot on the major-league roster soon. He’ll need a nickname sooner.