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Puig stepping up, earns praise from Roberts

September 15, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- How important could a productive Yasiel Puig be for the Dodgers in the stretch run?Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is looking forward to finding out, and he believes the outfielder is in a strong position."Yasiel's a very talented, talented player," Roberts said Saturday before the Dodgers routed the

ST. LOUIS -- How important could a productive Yasiel Puig be for the Dodgers in the stretch run?
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is looking forward to finding out, and he believes the outfielder is in a strong position.
"Yasiel's a very talented, talented player," Roberts said Saturday before the Dodgers routed the Cardinals, 17-4, at Busch Stadium. "I think the challenge for him is to understand the importance of every game and every pitch. Where we're at right now, in September, essentially playoff games, his focus is heightened. When he does that, he's as good as anybody out there."
After homering twice on Friday in the Dodgers' 3-0 victory, Puig went deep three times in Saturday's win. He hit a solo homer off John Gant in the fourth inning and then connected for a three-run shot off Mike Mayers in the fifth. Puig's third homer came off Luke Weaver in the eighth and was also a three-run shot. It was the seventh multihomer game of his career.
On Friday, Puig connected against Jack Flaherty to put Los Angeles ahead, 1-0, in the second, then teed off against Tyler Webb in the ninth to extend the lead to 3-0. It was more than enough support for rookie Walker Buehler, who threw a career-high eight on Friday, allowed two hits and struck out nine.
"Focus," Roberts said as the being the key to Puig's success. "He knows right now he's playing against right-handed pitching, so when he does get an opportunity against a lefty, he wants to show he deserves that opportunity to play against lefties. That's what competition does. It's innate in people. When you have to compete, you do better."
With players like Justin Turner, Manny Machado and Cody Bellinger hitting ahead of Puig, Roberts envisions plenty of RBI chances for Puig in the final two weeks of the season.
"Typically, he's going to have guys on base," Roberts said. "The at-bat quality has gotten considerably better. So when you add him, taking quality at-bats every time he steps in the box, it just continues to stress the pitcher.
"His defense in the second half of the season has been plus, and back to where it should be."
Reliever watch
Relievers Tony Cingrani (left shoulder strain) and John Axford (broken right fibula) will be activated Monday before the Dodgers begin an important three-game series against visiting Colorado.
Roberts isn't sure how they will be used. Both Cingrani and Axford threw rehab outings for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga in its 9-1 playoff-game victory over Visalia on Friday.
"They both came out of it well," Roberts said. "They're both going to join us Monday. I don't know in what spot [they will be used]. I think having Cingrani and Ax back out there is a good thing, but I haven't decided how we're going to use them -- or when."
Axford is closer to being used than Cingrani, who Roberts said could still compete in simulated games.
Dozier ailing
Second baseman James Dozier still is battling a bone bruise on his right knee that has been a factor in his 2-for-39 skid.
Entering Saturday, Dozier was batting just .183 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 38 games with the Dodgers since they acquired him from Minnesota on July 31.

"He's not going to let on how much it's affecting him," Roberts said. "I love the preparation; I love the work. Right now, it's just not happening. [But] his buy-in into our ballclub, and wanting to be here, is gold. He'll continue to get some opportunities against left-handed pitching, and we'll see how it goes."
Roberts said Dozier's injury probably is altering his mechanics.
"When you're dealing with something, an injury, it sometimes has a way of bleeding into your mechanics and affecting how things go," Roberts said. "The next thing you know, you look up and say, 'What happened?' I think there's a little bit of that."

David Wilhelm is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Louis.