SYDNEY – Yasiel Puig took a big swing, as he is prone to do. He flung the bat away as though injured or displeased with the strikeout. Both, perhaps. When the Los Angeles Dodgers took the field for the bottom of the ninth inning here Sunday afternoon, Puig was not among the nine.
Even by his personal standards of brilliance and what the hell, it had been quite a day.
While the team had won, it also had turned a rout into a bullpen role call, which clearly annoyed manager Don Mattingly. That Puig was an uncertain participant – in body and mind – appeared to exacerbate Mattingly's post-game mood. He'd had three hits and run into two terrible outs, and these are the things the Dodgers have cheered and/or chosen to live with.
Puig had complained of a sore shoulder Saturday, then of a sore back Sunday, which is why he was not in right field for the final wobbly outs.
"Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I'm not sure if they're going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday maybe," Mattingly said. "I'm not quite sure what we'll do. We may not do anything. I'm not sure."
Puig appeared to be moving around without difficulty when the Dodgers' charter arrived at LAX on Sunday afternoon.
The Dodgers would leave Sydney Cricket Ground with a 2-0 record, but the odor of the way they'd won the second trailed Mattingly into a post-game press conference. He'd be unhappy with a string of relievers who could not – or would not – throw strikes. And he'd seemingly be unhappy with Puig, who is becoming as large a responsibility for Mattingly as he is an enigma.
Given a good portion of last season in the big leagues, a winter to consider the occasional immaturity of his play, and then a second full spring training, Puig remains a physical specimen whose bouts of recklessness and tendency to pout are damaging to the final product. Mattingly said early Sunday that Puig's various aches and pains are getting hard to keep track of, which is not to say he isn't hurt, only that he seems to get hurt a lot and recover very quickly. Mattingly supposed that one of these injuries eventually could be something, "Like the little boy who cried wolf," he said, but until then – and with Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford for the moment unavailable – Mattingly has little choice but to play him.
This is, of course, the full package with Puig, who sat afterward in the clubhouse and seemed slow to dress for the flight home.
Asked about his back, he waggled his hand in the air and shrugged.
So-so, he was asked.
"Yeah," he said.
The Dodgers don't play again until Sunday night.
They'd come within a couple swings of losing all of a 7-0 lead, so Mattingly's mood was dark. Puig had been all over the place – good at-bats followed by base-running blunders followed by another trip to the trainer. He'd been part of building that lead, but also part of the reason the lead wasn't larger, and by the end was on the bench and not part of the solution, leaving Scott Van Slyke, an inferior defender, in right field. It's life with Yasiel Puig, spread over four hours. Over a season, this is what Mattingly is good at. That is, expressing confidence, demanding more, understanding that Puig's appetite for the game sometimes exceeds even his unusual tools, and waiting on a more mature game. With a fully healthy outfield, four or five men worth, Mattingly will have opportunity to more delicately express his disappointment.
For now, two games in, I assume Mattingly was mad at the world, mad at what he had to watch over the final two hours of game two, mad at 25 guys but focused on one, because this stuff finds Puig about as often as he finds it.
"I know at the end of the day this doesn't play for the course of the year," Mattingly said of the Dodgers' broader execution. "This ends up getting you in trouble."
That goes for Puig. That goes for all of them.