Yasiel Puig said what he needed to say upon his return to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was humble; he was contrite.

“I earned the demotion,” he acknowledged Friday after getting the call from Triple-A, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “I feel like I am a better person, and I am here now to show it.”

In an admittedly brief stint back with the big club, here’s what Puig has shown: He can still hit a baseball.

In two games, Puig has gone 3-for-6 with two walks and three runs scored. On Sunday, he cracked his first MLB home run since July 4, a three-run shot in the third inning of the Dodgers’ 7-4 win over the San Diego Padres.

Here’s the strong-man swing, courtesy of the Dodgers’ official Twitter feed: 

It’s a small-sample flash. But Puig resembles the guy who took the league by storm in 2013, the preternaturally gifted orb of energy who played like he had the cheat codes scribbled under the brim of his cap.

That version of Puig, or something approximating it, would be an immeasurable boon for the Dodgers as they battle the San Francisco Giants for National League West supremacy. Entering play Monday, L.A. holds a three-game lead over its archrival. 

He’s still Puig. A few conciliatory quotes and a couple of solid games don’t erase the issues that landed him in the minors and made yours truly wonder if he’d ever again don Dodger blue.

There’s no need to recount the entire Puig saga. Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller summed it up succinctly in December 2015:

Tucked somewhere among the salacious stories of Greinke tossing Puig’s suitcase off the bus and onto a street in Chicago, ace Clayton Kershaw allegedly advising the Dodgers front office this winter to dump the outfielder and third baseman Justin Turner almost getting into a fight with Puig last spring looms one of the biggest questions facing the Dodgers for 2016:

Is the relationship between Puig and his teammates inside the Dodgers’ clubhouse irreparably broken?

That was before the season started. Clearly, things didn’t get better.

Puig wrestled with injuries and inconsistency. On Aug. 2, the Dodgers sent him down, as manager Dave Roberts phrased it, “to improve him as a player and a person,” per MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick.

Puig stirred up controversy with the Oklahoma City Dodgers as well, but he torched Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of a .348 average and .994 OPS. 

The Dodgers lineup was struggling against southpaws. At a certain point, it just made too much sense to give the right-handed Puig another crack.

In both of his starts so far, he’s slotted into right field against southpaw starters in place of lefty-swinging trade acquisition Josh Reddick. Puig has logged MLB innings at all three outfield positions, however, which will allow Roberts to mix and match.

Puig’s return was unceremonious, as Shaikin detailed:

It was an awkward homecoming for Puig. He had conquered the minor leagues in the month since the Dodgers had banished him, but they did not treat him as a conquering hero. They tried to trade him before they sent him down, and they tried again before they called him back up. They had moved his locker clear across the clubhouse, and no longer did he enjoy a vacant locker next to his own.

This is a marriage of necessity. The Dodgers need Puig’s bat. Puig needs to cast aside the distractions and prove he deserves to stay in the Show.

He’s only 25 years old and two seasons removed from an All-Star campaign. A hot streak down the stretch and into the postseason could cement a role with Los Angeles next season. Or it could boost his trade stock if the Dodgers opt to dangle him this winter in a weak free-agent class. 

We already know there’ll be interest, based on reports that the Milwaukee Brewers claimed him off waivers prior to his call-up and engaged in “legitimate” talks involving outfielder Ryan Braun, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal

Either way, Puig can benefit himself and his employer by keeping his head down and his stick scalding. 

Add ace Clayton Kershaw’s impending return—he’s set to start Friday, per Alanna Rizzo of SportsNet Los Angeles—and the Dodgers may be getting the band back together at precisely the right time.

Is Puig a changed man? Did a month riding the MiLB bus show him the light? Those are questions for another day.

Can he help the Dodgers win games from here to late October? The early returns point toward yes.


All statistics current as of Sept. 4 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

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