Dodgers News: Dave Roberts, Justin Turner Call Yasiel Puig ‘Game-Changer’
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With two starting-caliber right fielders on his roster, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has essentially platooned Yasiel Puig and Josh Reddick. Puig has logged time in left field this month for the first time since 2013 — his rookie season.

Puig and Reddick being part of the same lineup seemed unlikely just over one month ago. The former was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City in August, while the latter was expected to serve as the replacement.

Now the Dodgers find themselves counting on — needing — Puig to be part of the team’s solution when facing left-handed pitching.

Overstated or not, that’s been a point of weakness for the Dodgers this season. Their 25-year-old mercurial outfielder provided a tantalizing reminder of his talent in Wednesday’s rubber match against the San Francisco Giants.

“Yasiel, defensively, what he can do with the bat, he’s a game-changer,” Roberts said after his club’s big win. Puig went 1-for-4 with a three-run homer in the first inning that broke a 1-1 tie. He also made a tremendous running catch at the warning track in right field.

Although the home run was his lone hit on the night, Puig made solid contact and drove the ball into the outfield in two other at-bats. “He’s done some things mechanically, but when he elevates the ball with his strength, good things are going to happen,” Roberts said as one reason for Puig’s surge.

“He and the hitting coaches have been working on things. I like his direction, he’s not closed off on the front side as much, and he’s getting to a lot of pitches he wasn’t prior. I think it goes back to what we’ve talked about all year: taking balls and swinging at strikes. That’s what he’s doing.”

Puig has four home runs since being recalled from Oklahoma City; he had seven through 81 games played prior to being demoted. Puig’s ability to impact the game certainly isn’t lost on his teammates.

“That’s the guy we all know he can be. He has the potential to be a game-changer. He’s an exciting player on both sides of the ball,” Justin Turner said.

“When he’s feeling confident, out there having fun and playing the game the right way, he makes a big difference for us. That’s why we all wanted him back up here in September. We knew he could be a game-changer for us. He is one of the best outfielders in baseball.”

When Puig returned to Los Angeles he vowed to be a better teammate. By all accounts he’s met, if not exceeded, the expectations and guidelines that were set forth. Though, chemistry isn’t a topic he’s keen on discussing.

“I don’t know about chemistry, because if you talk about chemistry then you have to bring in physics and math,” Puig joked through a translator.

“We were ready to play and ready to go against lefties. There’s a group that plays against lefties, there’s batters that can go against righties, and that’s important looking toward the playoffs. We’re well-prepared for anything.”

Roberts was much more willing to highlight the strides his outfielder has made. “It starts with the buy-in and unselfishness. He talks about being a better teammate, and when you’re not in the lineup every day, there’s some sacrifice,” Roberts said.

“A lot of guys in that clubhouse are making sacrifices. I think that’s No. 1. He’s in a good place mentally. To get rewarded on the field and see his teammates embrace and support him, obviously that feels good. At this point in time it’s about one common goal. He’s a heck of a player. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Turner echoed Roberts’ sentiment, stressing a team-first mentality and embracing each player in the clubhouse. Perhaps no better example of that is the Dodgers wearing ‘#DONTLOOKATME’ t-shirts in light of Puig’s run-in with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

Puig said Thursday the team would continue wearing the shirts so long as they kept winning.