The Dodgers removed Yasiel Puig from the starting lineup for their home opener on Friday after he still had not arrived at the ballpark when the Dodgers took the field for batting practice. He showed up on the field about halfway through it, at almost 10:30 a.m.
The Dodgers weren't going to start the newly activated Matt Kemp for Friday’s home opener against the Giants, but that plan has been changed, thanks to Puig’s latest brain cramp.
This is the second time in Puig’s short career that he has been benched for arriving late. Add his two reckless driving arrests, the mistakes running the bases, getting pulled in the middle of a game for not being set defensively and a recent clubhouse meeting over his mental mistakes, and he remains a talented outfielder not exactly charging into maturity.
He’s a lightning rod all right. One that strikes with greater frequency than any storm.
Reeling Puig in and keeping him focused is an ongoing problem for the Dodgers. But Manager Don Mattingly is correct in handing down the discipline. He doesn’t have a whole lot of choice.
They have to hope something, at some point soon, finally gets the 23-year-old Cuban’s attention. His talent only buys so much patience.
The Dodgers activated Kemp prior to Friday’s home opener, sending Mike Baxter to triple-A Albuquerque, but Mattingly did not put Kemp in the lineup originally, much to Kemp's consternation.
"He was upset,” Mattingly said before all the Puig turmoil. “I think he wanted to play.”
It’s Kemp, so you know he wanted – expected – to play. But with right-hander Ryan Vogelsong starting for the Giants, this was probably Mattingly’s wisest move, even if unforeseen.
“It’s just a matter of getting Matt back into the mix and not throwing him into the fire,” Mattingly said. “This is a one-day thing. It’s not an everyday thing. I think our clubhouse is pretty solid. We’re here to win.”
And it’s OK for Kemp to be upset over not playing, at least in the short term. You need him wanting to play, being hungry and determined. Let him ease back mostly against left-handers for awhile and show he’s back. If he’s anywhere near the old Kemp, he’ll play regularly.
But as they say, it’s a team deal and every player – superstar or not – will have to buy in and simply play hard. Whether eager to or not.
“I’m not going to try and convince any of these guys that they have to buy into anything,” Mattingly said. “We’re going to match up as best we can and make the best out of this situation.”
If Kemp – or anyone else – is still upset down the line, it’s a problem. But everyone has understood all along there was an extra star outfielder, and if all were healthy, one was going to have to sit every game not in an American League city.
“It’s not a perfect scenario by any means for anybody,” Mattingly said. “But there are a number of guys who are going to be involved in this. I don’t think it’s going to be a negative situation in our clubhouse. We’re going to do the best we can with it.
“For him to address himself on how he feels, is for me is totally fine. But at the end of the day, I would ask all those guys or anybody out there, that when you make a decision to be good teammates.”
Mattingly had said Kemp would be available to pinch hit, particularly should he be matched against a left-hander.
"I think if this wasn't Opening Day it wouldn't be near as big a deal, but it is," he said. "And here we go."