Struggling Yasiel Puig sits as Dodgers give rookie Joc Pederson the start

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LOS ANGELES – I'm told the digital clock in the Dodgers' clubhouse is set a few minutes fast, which apparently everybody knows about. So, watching that clock as Yasiel Puig rolls down the hallway toward the clubhouse at 3:58 p.m. Tuesday maybe isn't the drama it appears to be.

Instead of having precisely two minutes to be on the field and stretching with his teammates, he has as many as five or six. When the clock turns to 4:00, he has one sock on. At 4:01, he has his cap in his hand and is rummaging through his locker for his glove.

He has the time to converse with the guy who gives away free batting gloves, and time to wait for the guy to return with a handful of them. In the meantime, he can glance at the lineup, turn away, then turn back for a longer look. There's a free 20 or 30 seconds to wrestle with the plastic packaging that has a neon yellow bracelet inside.

All put together, his uniform reasonably assembled, his glove in one hand, his bracelet on his wrist, his cap snug, his spikes laced and tied, the clock at 4:02, Puig then has ample time to return to the lineup sheet, which is posted not far from his locker. He stared at it, turned away, then, for the fourth time, looked again. At 4:03 by the clubhouse clock that is apparently not accurate, Puig on Tuesday afternoon found his place among the misshapen outfield circle of position players and relievers already stretching and therefore perhaps unaware of the fact the clubhouse clock is apparently fast.

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Joc Pederson got the start in center field against the Nationals. (USA Today)

Joc Pederson got the start in center field against the Nationals. (USA Today)

Puig was not in the starting lineup Tuesday night. Joc Pederson was, in center field, that often being Puig's position.

And so it was Puig who pumped his fist and cheered the loudest from the bench when Pederson looped a fastball into center field for his first big-league hit, and Puig who gestured with his hands for the ball to be taken out of play and delivered to the dugout, and Puig who hit Pederson with the first and hardest high-five when Pederson came off the field two batters later.

An amazing, enigmatic, mercurial, gifted, electric, charitable, breathtaking and sometimes maybe – depending on the timepiece – slightly tardy young man, Yasiel Puig.

And on the occasion of the arrival of the young Pederson, with the Washington Nationals in town and Clayton Kershaw on the mound, with the Dodgers giving away ground to the San Francisco Giants and offensively flat, it was Puig who was given a day to find himself. He has not homered since July 31. He has one home run since July 4. He's batted .185 for a month, and slugged .217. That, you know, and all the other stuff that makes Puig Puig, both brilliant and somewhat goofy, and always entertaining.

The plan, Don Mattingly said, was to give Puig a day or so out of the batter's box and out of his own head. That way, Mattingly said, Puig could work on some of the issues that have plagued him, habits such as plate discipline and pitch recognition, rather than expending energy on game preparation. Mattingly likened it to teaching your kid to swim; you could stand on the dock and watch him thrash around 'til he figures it out or you could haul him out of the lake and show him how to tread water. This was a haul-him-out-of-the-lake day, gasping.

Course, Puig was notified he wouldn't be playing only when he arrived at the ballpark. Early batting practice, or early work with the hitting coach, is pretty much over by 3:58 p.m. Or 3:54 p.m. Or whenever. So, maybe tomorrow.

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Puig has hit only one home run since July 4. (Getty Images)

Puig has hit only one home run since July 4. (Getty Images)

The other plan, Mattingly said, was to give Pederson, the organization's top prospect and most skilled center fielder – "Probably the only true center fielder we have at this point," is how he put it – a go behind Kershaw. As it happens, Mattingly made the perhaps tough choice to go with Pederson because of the defensive element, then watched nine innings pass without a ball being hit to center field.

There is a third possibility at work. That is, Puig's bosses are telling Puig there are no guarantees. He must produce. He must work at his deficiencies. He must prepare. He must make sound decisions. Because the organization does have options.

"He's a smart kid," Mattingly said. "He knows he's struggling. He knows he's a big part of what we're doing here. Everybody's trying to help him."

On Tuesday night, the folks at Dodger Stadium cheered Joc as they would Yasiel. They love Yasiel here. They think they love Joc, too. And Yasiel cheered Joc, too.

"Honestly, this time of year, I don't think Yas has to prove he can do it," Mattingly said. "I think we all know he can do it. …It's not a fact he has to go prove himself. It's a fact we want to get him back to doing his things.

"Today we're trying to win a game today. We think Joc's a good option today."

So Puig sat. And Pederson had a hit and a walk. Kershaw won his 17th game. The Dodgers beat the Nationals, 4-1, and remained two games ahead of the Giants. And nothing's ever easy, it seems, for these Dodgers, not for even one minute.

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