LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have been through all this before -- excitement fueling expectations, the undeniable talent igniting imaginations.Yasiel Puig arrived on the Dodgers' landscape like a comet in June 2013, his athleticism bursting upon the scene. Home runs, a cannon arm, speed on the bases, a flair that
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have been through all this before -- excitement fueling expectations, the undeniable talent igniting imaginations.
Yasiel Puig arrived on the Dodgers' landscape like a comet in June 2013, his athleticism bursting upon the scene. Home runs, a cannon arm, speed on the bases, a flair that either captured or annoyed.
He was baseball's next superstar, a Cuban Superman who oozed almost unlimited potential. Until he didn't anymore.
Flash forward almost four years later. His production waned, his lackadaisical work ethic caused clubhouse friction, his star diminished.
Last season, a frustrated front office tried to trade him. When they couldn't, they sent him down to the Minors. Only now, here he is, crushing a pair of two-run homers Thursday, walking twice and stealing a base in the Dodgers' 10-2 victory over the Padres to raise eyebrows and cause baseball hearts to go all aflutter again.
"Puig hitting like that and waffling balls all over and stealing bases, that's the Puig that we need and that's the Puig that everybody hated facing years ago and people love to watch now," said Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy.
If Puig, 26, can still generate excitement, that doesn't mean it's not tempered among the Dodgers and Puig. Lessons have apparently been learned by both. He batted seventh in the order Thursday. He hit eighth on Opening Day. Four games will hardly change everything.
"Each game is separate," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He's having good at-bats and that's what we're expecting out of him. I'm not going to play the game where every time he has a good game, we move him up. He has a bad game, we move him down. That's not how it works. I like the way the lineup is constructed."
Still, there was no denying his breakout performance Thursday. His first home run came in the second inning against light-throwing Jered Weaver and shot into the Dodgers' bullpen, hitting the back wall on a bounce.
Statcast™ had an exit velocity of 107 mph, which as it turned out, was only a warmup. In his second at-bat in the fourth, he absolutely destroyed a Weaver fastball, hitting a line drive that just cleared the top of the bullpen gate but had an exit velocity of 110.8 mph -- which is his hardest-hit home run in the Statcast™ era.
That all bodes well for Puig and the Dodgers. Only once in 2016 did Puig hit two balls even 100 mph or harder and 10 degrees or higher in the same game. Avoiding weak grounders has been an on-going priority. His early plate discipline is only encouraging to the Dodgers.
"It comes with preparation, getting here early, working every day," Puig said. "Thanks to that preparation, everything has been working out."
Puig is very careful to say the right things these days, even if his three total home runs currently lead the Majors.
"I'm not worried about being the home run leader because when I start worrying about things like that, that's when bad things happen," he said. "I just go out there and have fun and whatever happens, happens."
This Puig presented is a more seasoned star, one who has learned lessons and is now committed to performing at his best.
"From what I've seen of Yasiel in years past to now, he's really grown up," Roberts said. "We're asking him to continue to grow as a baseball player, as a man. He's really come a long way. It's a credit to him."
Still, the Dodgers are watching carefully, letting this more disciplined Puig unfold on a daily basis. There is still plenty of convincing to do for those who became so enthralled by his potential when he first emerged, only to be left disappointed.
"The thing with Yasiel is, early on in his career the league didn't know how to approach him," Roberts said. "He was hitting a lot of balls out over [the plate] and the league was learning him.
"Over the last couple of years you see that the league has adjusted. And he's had to make those adjustments as well. Right now he's disciplined in his approach. We look forward for him to sustain this."
Steve Dilbeck is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Dodgers on Thursday.