Dodgers look to strike right balance with Puig

LOS ANGELES -- Ricky Nolasco had just pitched one of the games of his life Wednesday afternoon and about one-third of the questions he fielded from reporters afterward had to do with the benching of Yasiel Puig.

That's probably not what he wanted to talk about at that very moment.

As has been pointed out many times, perfectly accurately, none of Puig's transgressions alone has been a particularly big deal. If you've seen the traffic in Miami, you wouldn't blame him for being 40 minutes late to a game. Do Dodgers fans really want to get on somebody for showing up late because of traffic?

For every nine or 10 cutoff men he overshoots, he'll throw out one baserunner at a crucial point in a game. If he makes an out on the bases and drives in three, that's a net gain, right?

But there are two reasons this pattern of petty Puig transgressions -- two benchings and a fine (at least) -- is becoming a troubling one for the Dodgers. Firstly, it is a distraction, one the Dodgers have played through but probably won't want to deal with when the bright lights come on in early October.

Secondly, it could be just the tip of the iceberg. Manager Don Mattingly said several times in his postgame comments after pulling Puig from Wednesday's game for undisclosed disciplinary reasons that he preferred to keep the issue "in house."

In my experience, teams keep a lid on the vast majority of conflicts that arise during a season, and it's fair to wonder if there have been bigger issues that never became public.

Mattingly has to be torn. On the one hand, he needs to keep one of the most talented young players in baseball happy and productive. That's probably the top imperative. On the other, he has to show the other players on the team that he doesn't have one set of standards for 24 of them and another set for one.

The best thing he can probably do is continue to teach with compassion. It seems to be what he's trying to do. There is only sporadic evidence that Puig is listening, but there is some.

"I talk to him like I would talk to my kids. I try to be honest with him in what I think," Mattingly said. "I have to represent the whole ballclub with some decisions that I make."

If that doesn't work, there's not much more a manager can do, aside, of course, from making out his lineup card without Puig's name on it. It seems like those days are still well down the road.