It’s the first week of the baseball season and you know what that means: time to get excited by hyperbolic extrapolations of small sample sizes. Madison Bumgarner is the next Shohei Otani! The White Sox are going to play .500 ball! And Yasiel Puig is back, baby.
Puig had an explosive first two seasons in L.A., followed up by two years of feuding with Dodgers brass and struggling to recapture the kind of on-field production that made fans quick to forgive instances of questionable effort or poor decision-making. In 2016 Puig slugged just .416 and a mere 11 home runs, a performance that earned him a month in the minors.
Through the first four games of 2017, Puig has five hits and four walks in 16 plate appearances—and three of those hits were big ol’ dongs. Here are the two he hit last night in what was his first two-homer game since the first week of 2013:
According to Statcast, the second dinger set a new personal best for Puig—at 110.9 mph, it was his hardest-hit home run. Yes, all this offense came against the Padres, who are essentially out of contention already, but the Dodgers sound cautiously optimistic. Manager Dave Roberts told the Associated Press after last night’s game that Puig’s struggles stemmed in part from pitchers learning how to get him out and that even this limited span of success is a testament to Puig’s counter-adjustments and improved plate discipline.
“It’s more credit now that he’s started off this series well in the sense that they’re pitching him tough” Roberts said. “He’s swinging at strikes and taking balls. We look for him to sustain this.”
Now 26, Puig himself chalks up the turnaround to newfound maturity—or maybe he’s just learned to parrot what middle-aged white dudes with baseball columns have been saying about him.
“You have to behave yourself and get here early and prepare,” Puig said yesterday through an interpreter. “That’s how things are going the right way.”
It’s also possible Puig is hitting more home runs simply because—like the rest of baseball—that’s what he’s trying to do. After his first home run of the season on Wednesday, Puig said of his new approach, “What I think about is putting the ball in the air. Or else I’m going to have no money in my pocket.”
Even if you’re not a Dodgers fan, a productive Yasiel Puig is good for baseball’s fun quotient so here’s hoping that the dingers keep flying.