Puig's breakout was a matter of time

May 14th, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- Basic stat lines might not have shown it, but Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig had been hitting the ball as hard as anyone in the league in the three games prior to Friday night's 3-for-5 breakout in an 8-4 win over the Cardinals.

Puig entered the series opener with a .230/.276/.365 slash line, but signs pointed to his coming out of the funk prior to his home run and two RBIs at Dodger Stadium.

"I was happy for [Puig]," manager Dave Roberts said. "He's been working hard, and like we've talked about, these last few days he's had good at-bats, hit the ball hard, and had nothing to show for it. Then, today he got rewarded."

You could almost say Puig has had the same showing three games in a row, then broke through in the fourth. The following are his batted-ball velocities, according to Statcast™, and outcomes from each plate appearance.

• Tuesday: 103-mph single, 105-mph out, 109 mph out, popout (no data)

• Wednesday: 110-mph single, 81-mph out, 102-mph out, strikeout

• Thursday: 97-mph out, 98-mph out, strikeout

• Friday: 81-mph single, 110-mph out, 96-mph single, 99-mph home run, 76-mph out

For three days, it was the same story each day: Puig made the hard contact his coaches were looking for, saw disappointing results, and eventually ended with his weakest at-bat of the night. Then, on Friday night, some of those hard-hit balls found the grass and one, the stands.

"Across the board, I think he's doing a lot of things well," Roberts said. "You look at the stat line, and the numbers aren't there offensively, but I think sometimes you get that, I don't want to call it a cheap hit, but an infield hit, and that lets you exhale a little bit, make you feel a little bit more confident. He's a guy that builds on momentum, so hopefully he carries it over to tomorrow."

Despite Puig's struggles coming in, Roberts moved Puig up to fifth in Friday's lineup for the first time since Monday to face Cardinals right-handed starting pitcher Michael Wacha, whose changeup out-pitch makes him a better matchup for right-handed hitters.

Another reason might be that Wacha ranks among the top in the Majors in percentage of pitches inside the strike zone. Puig hasn't drawn a base on balls since April 24, and strike-zone discipline has been identified as a recurring problem for him.

"We've see in three years that he's been hot and he's been cold, but I think he's going to get better, and he could be a bit more patient outside the zone," Roberts said. "I'm sure he has high expectations for himself, obviously, but I think as a player, when you start getting too far ahead of yourself, that's when the anxiety and the pressure creep in."

Whatever the reason, Puig kept doing what he had been doing for days and was finally rewarded. If he can keep up that hard contact, his .244/.288/.397 will be looking better very soon.