That was back in the early days of spring training, before Puig had ever played a meaningful game above Class-A ball. He was comparing him to a football player because of his rare combination of size and speed. What he’s found out since is that Puig also plays baseball with an emotional intensity usually confined to the NFL.
Is that approach sustainable over a career? Is it sustainable even over the course of one season, which has more than 10 times as many games as an NFL season?
Neither of those questions has been answered definitively, but it’s fair to say the Dodgers are grappling with those themes as they get a handle on how to handle Puig. Do they risk tampering with his brilliant start if they ask him to tone it down?
The question is similar to the one about what to do about his lapses in fundamentals. Are they simply things you have to accept -- the bad with the good -- or if they correct them now, could they make him an even better player? Several Dodgers have admitted that the message simply isn't getting through.
Mattingly clearly is walking a fine -- and probably uncomfortable -- line. During Monday night’s 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins, Mattingly had to walk out and make peace with an umpire after Puig inexplicably erupted at John Hirschbeck after a three-pitch strikeout in the fifth inning. Only one of those pitches was a called strike, the last was Puig swinging wildly at 97 mph fastballs.
Mattingly said he had to assuage an umpire in Philadelphia just a day or two earlier. Monday’s dispute started with Puig glaring at Hirschbeck and ended with his teammates having to hustle him out of the dugout before he was ejected. Puig has already alienated opponents with his flamboyant style. Of course, you could argue, who cares? It's a little bit riskier to get on the wrong side of umpires.
“They’re only going to put up with so much,” Mattingly said of the umpires. ”For me, if he doesn’t say anything … It’s just a little delicate. He’s emotional and we’re not going to get that out of him.”
Perhaps Puig’s emotions were heightened playing for the first time so close to his native Cuba and against fellow defector Jose Fernandez? Mattingly laughed a little bit at that suggestion.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s pretty much normal. It really is. That’s just how he plays and that’s just the way it is.”
After the game, in which Puig went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts, he insisted his interview with reporters be confined to two questions and that they focus strictly on baseball. Speaking in Spanish, he said that Hirschbeck made a “bad” call, but otherwise declined to elaborate much on the confrontation.
Puig did call Fernandez, who is a year younger than him, a “tremendous pitcher.” The Marlins drew 27,127 fans for Monday’s showdown between the talented young compatriots.
Maybe the next time Puig swings through town, he’ll have a cooler disposition, but nobody’s banking on that happening anytime soon.