Alex Gallardo, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — The newest hot, young thing in Los Angeles is a guy you can't take your eyes off of. He's well-built, with a winning smile and engaging personality. He doesn't say a lot, preferring to let his performance speak for him.
He's getting rave reviews, and is a hit on the Internet. Hollywood isn't after him yet, but if Yasiel Puig keeps this up, opportunities will surely come calling.
Fittingly, the Los Angeles Dodgers rookie plays for a team co-owned by Magic Johnson, a guy who knew a thing or two about showmanship and style during his NBA days.
The 22-year-old right fielder (say Yah-SEE-el Pweeg) has shown plenty of both while creating a buzz that had been missing at Chavez Ravine so far this season. Puig was batting .464 with a .964 slugging percentage going into Monday night's game against Arizona.
His first week in the majors was a memorable one, with 13 hits in 28 at-bats, four home runs and 10 RBIs in his first seven games since coming up from the minor leagues. He was named NL player of the week on Monday.
Puig electrified the last-place Dodgers with a multi-homer game and a grand slam, and helped them to four wins in seven games, big for a club with a $215 million payroll that has greatly underperformed.
"As long as the team is pulling together, I'm happy to be a part of it," he said in Spanish through a translator.
Manager Don Mattingly loves Puig's personality and enthusiasm for the game, evident by the way he runs hard, whether it's to take up his position in right field or charge around the bases.
"It's just infectious the way he plays," Mattingly said. "Seems like there's a joy in his game. It's the way you're supposed to play. He just looks so fresh."
Puig's splashy debut and the ensuing excitement it's created have drawn comparisons to Manny Ramirez's arrival in Los Angeles in July 2008.
The following month, Ramirez hit .415 with 25 RBIs, nine home runs and 21 runs scored as a section of left field became "Mannywood." He finished fourth in voting for the NL MVP award that season. Eventually, the good times ended when he was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
"I'd seen Manny play and knew what he could do," said Mattingly, then a Dodgers coach. "But this cat is a different animal. The more you see it the more you believe it."
Puig's talent and the lift he's given to the injury-riddled Dodgers remind some of Angels star Mike Trout and Washington left fielder Bryce Harper, whose breakout seasons boosted their teams.
With center fielder Matt Kemp and left fielder Carl Crawford on the disabled list, the Dodgers called up Puig from Double-A Chattanooga on June 3. Mattingly put him in right field and had him batting leadoff.
Puig turned heads with an amazing throw in the ninth inning of his first game. He caught the ball near the wall and fired a line drive to first base that doubled off the startled runner to end the game with a double play in a 2-1 victory.
The next night, Puig hit two home runs in a 9-7 win. He came down to Earth last Wednesday with an 0 for 4 night that included two strikeouts. But he bounced back the following night with the grand slam, inducing Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, who's seen plenty of remarkable feats, to proclaim, "I don't believe it!"
Puig became just the third player since 1900 with three homers in his first four career games, according to information provided to the Dodgers by Elias Sports Bureau.
Oh yeah, he homered again last Friday.
Puig's ability to speak English is limited, and Mattingly was asked how he communicates with the rookie during games.
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