Puig the only untouchable in soon-to-be crowded outfield?

Today’s rehabilitation assignment begins Carl Crawford’s road back to the Los Angeles, but his arrival is sure to create a traffic jam.

Expected to finish his recovery from a strained left hamstring with four games for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, Crawford will join a Dodgers outfield including the game’s hottest hitter and two cornerstones of the franchise.

The question is, how will Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, rookie sensation Yasiel Puig and Crawford coexist in one outfield?

“I wouldn’t want to be the one making the decisions about who’s going to play,” Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. said. “But it’s a good problem to have.”

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly hasn’t had many good problems this season, but it won’t be easy to sort this out.

The one player who simply can’t be removed from the lineup is Puig, the rookie sensation that has put the league on notice with seven home runs, 16 RBIs and a league-leading .424 batting average in the first 24 games of his major league career.

Fresh off a stint on the disabled list with his third hamstring injury in two years, Kemp’s .252/.306/.364 average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage numbers are well below expectations, but sitting the player that finished second the National League MVP voting prior to an injury-marred 2012 season won’t be an easy decision.

Ethier hasn’t been himself either, hitting 32 points below his career .288 average with two less home runs than Puig and only eight more RBIs in 170 more at-bats entering Saturday. Crawford was hitting .301 when he went on the disabled list June 2 and he still leads the team in runs scored despite having missed 25 games during a season that has been largely perceived as overachieving thus far.

So, how will Mattingly manage this crowd?

“Well, you’ve got to swing the bat, right?” Mattingly said. “Obviously at this point, Yasiel has basically said ‘Play me everyday.’ Without having to say anything, he basically goes out and gets a couple hits a day, doing something everyday to help you win a game.

“We always say guys create their own opportunity. We try to set some type of role for guys and layout game plan as you walk into the season, but as the season unfolds guys kind of write their own ticket.”

In other words, whoever is swinging the bat well will also be playing the outfield, especially with Ethier’s new-found ability to play center field creating more possible player combinations.

“I don’t think we can afford to say ‘Hey, we’ve got to be nice to everybody and everybody gets equal time,” Mattingly said. “It’s not spring training anymore.”

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