By Andy McCullough/Los Angeles Times
The flight of the baseball, arcing in a parabola against the inky sky, afforded Yasiel Puig the luxury of admiration. He took seven steps to marvel at his first home run of the 2017 season before starting his trot around the bases after swatting a solo shot in the fourth inning of a 3-1 victory Wednesday over San Diego. As Puig circled the diamond, Dodger Stadium reverberated with admiration.
Inside the plans of the Los Angeles Dodgers (2-1), Puig occupies a secondary role. He bats eighth in the lineup. The organisation attempted to trade him last summer. His performance will dictate his playing time this summer.
Yet inside this ballpark, in the eyes of the patrons who pay much to watch this team perform, Puig still shimmers like a star. He can still re-create the frenzy of 2013 and 2014, when his bat and his arm and his legs transfixed the entire sport. He can still allow people to dream.
The dreamers saw all they needed in Wednesday’s fourth inning. Puig teetered off balance as he swung at a changeup thrown by Padres pitcher Trevor Cahill.
The lower half of Puig scarcely moved. His arms generated enough strength to punish Cahill, anyway.
Puig added an infield single in the sixth inning. He spent time this spring focusing on elevating the baseball, rather than battering it into the ground. His homer demonstrated his potential when he hits the ball in the air.
In 2016, Puig provided 11 home runs, the same number he had produced in 79 games in 2015. He ranked eighth on the team in homers. The responsibility for runs shifted from Puig to the more reliable bats of players such as Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal.
As the Dodgers ponder how their offense might improve in 2017, Puig represents an asset capable of achieving an upgrade. One swing will not change his trajectory. But it cannot hurt.
On Wednesday, the offense supplied enough support to hand Rich Hill a victory. Hill struck out five and allowed one run on two hits in five innings. He departed after only 75 pitches, in deference to his truncated outings last month at Camelback Ranch.
Hill often sputters through spring training, and his first preseason as a Dodger unfolded in erratic fashion. At times, he looked transcendent. At times, he looked incapable of taming his curveball. Hill uses only two pitches, his fastball and his curve, bending the shape and toggling the speed of the latter to deceive hitters. When he throws the pitch for strikes, opponents struggle to make contact.
“If he can command that breaking ball, it’s going to be a good night for us,” manager Dave Roberts said earlier Wednesday.
The pitch bent to his demand on Wednesday. Hill did not allow a hit until the fourth inning. By then, the offense had already handed him a two-run advantage.
Indians 9 Rangers 6
Dodgers 3 Padres 1
Diamondbacks 8 Giants 6
Angels 5 Athletics 0
Red Sox 3 Pirates 0 (12 innings)
Twins 9 Royals 1
Nationals 6 Marlins 4
Orioles 3 Blue Jays 1
Reds 2 Phillies 0
Rays 4 Yankees 1
Braves 3 Mets 1 (12 innings)
Astros 5 Mariners 3 (13 innings)
Brewers 6 Rockies 1
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