Puig gets jolt of confidence as spring wanes

SYDNEY – Don Mattingly has taken to calling this a “year of transition” for Yasiel Puig, which, at first blush, hints at trouble. Puig batted .517 in spring training last year and an electrifying .319 in the regular season. Who would want to transition from those numbers?

A .122 batting average without a home run this spring, though, didn’t exactly suggest Puig was having a smooth time of things.

But Mattingly was referring to the evolution of how to pitch Puig and whether Puig can, over the long run, adjust in step with the scouting reports.

“We’ll see how he handles it, in terms of teams making adjustments to him and seeing if he can come back,” Mattingly said. “He showed last year that he could, but it’s going to continue, so we’ll see.”

Puig showed some of his old flash when the lights came on in Australia. He belted a two-run home run and threw out a runner at the plate Thursday in the Dodgers’ 4-2 win over Team Australia in an exhibition game, the first baseball played at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 100 years.

Puig admitted he was feeling “a little bad” this spring, though coaches encouraged him not to worry about his numbers. He also acknowledged that hitting that home run, off red-bearded Australia pitcher Matthew Williams, felt good, “because I haven’t hit one in a while.”

Team Australia manager Jon Deeble was a bit upset at Williams for giving Puig a pitch to hit with Chone Figgins and Mike Baxter coming up behind him. For the Dodgers, it was probably the best thing that could have happened, because the last thing they wanted was for Puig to go into the regular season with a crisis of confidence because of his dismal spring.

The next time the Dodgers play, here Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it will impact the NL West standings. The Dodgers needed Puig to make a move, and, for the first time all spring, he kind of did.

“We know Yasiel can hit, and there have been a few games lately where I felt he was swinging the bat OK,” Mattingly said.

Step by step, the Dodgers are working on getting back the 2013 version of their star outfielder.