03/24/2013 2:10 AM ET
Puig's emergence leaves Dodgers with tough call
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If the Dodgers have 25 players better than Yasiel Puig, they're going to have one amazing team.
"I don't know about that," said manager Don Mattingly, who is starting to sound like management will find a place on the team for the 22-year-old Cuban sensation.
Mattingly also concedes that what Puig is doing this Spring Training defies comprehension after he went 3-for-3 while triggering two rallies, ran crazy on the bases and made a diving catch in a game he didn't even start against the White Sox, a 10-4 win on Saturday night.
"It's kind of getting goofy," said Mattingly. "It's almost like a big kid playing Little League."
The Dodgers came to Arizona figuring to give Puig a taste of a big league camp before sending him to Double-A for seasoning. But maybe he doesn't need it.
He's become the hottest hitter in spring baseball, a phenomenon who leaves his teammates shaking their heads in amazement while leaving the club trying to figure out how to shoehorn him onto a team with a $300 million outfield.
"I've seen a lot of great Spring Trainings," said Matt Kemp, "but never anything like this."
Mattingly reminded reporters that Puig hasn't been sent down for a reason. The reason is that he's hitting a staggering .547 (29-for-53), including 10 hits in his last 11 at-bats. He's scored 16 runs, nearly double the next closest Dodger (Dee Gordon, 9). He has 10 extra-base hits. And in 55 plate appearances, he doesn't have a walk, but he still has a .527 on-base percentage and a 1.414 OPS.
"One year [Yankees GM] Brian Cashman says, 'What are you going to do with Robinson Cano? He only walked 13 times,'" said Mattingly, then the Yankees' hitting coach. "The guy hit .340. I didn't know what to tell him, I really didn't. Everything he hits hard. What are you supposed to do with that?"
Just let him hit, apparently. Puig on Saturday stretched a line drive past the ear of pitcher Jake Peavy and into center field for a double. He shattered a bat for a single to right field and bounced a single to left field. He went first to third on a wild pickoff throw and robbed Dewayne Wise of extra bases with a diving catch near the left-field foul line.
"There hasn't been much he hasn't done," said Mattingly. "There's not much to say."
Puig didn't even start the game. He took over for Carl Crawford, who played the field for the first time since his August Tommy John elbow surgery, but went untested without a ball his way during his three innings. He'll be extended to five innings on Sunday.
Ryu looks destined for rotation
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Manager Don Mattingly all but confirmed on Saturday night that Hyun-Jin Ryu has won a spot somewhere in the Dodgers' starting rotation.
"It's hard to say the guy wouldn't be in the rotation the way he's pitched," Mattingly said after Ryu tossed a one-hitter over seven innings in a 10-4 win against the White Sox. "There's no reason to think he's not going to pitch good. After his last outing there's not a lot not to like. He's quick to the plate, changes speeds and locates well. That what we ask our guys to do."
Ryu said he'll show even another gear in April.
"Everything will be more crisp," said the Korean import. "The velocity will be a couple miles an hour faster, the command will be a little bit better overall."
Ryu is pitching on the same cycle as Chad Billingsley, who still can't throw a curveball because of a bruised right index finger. If the season started this week instead of next week, Ryu would be starting Game 2.
With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett guaranteed spots if healthy, and veterans Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang still competing, Ryu was asked if he felt he had done enough to win a spot in the starting rotation.
"I think I've shown enough in camp for the coaching staff to make a decision," he said. "But camp is camp. I don't put too much weight on it. What matters is the regular season."
Ryu said he threw more curveballs than in earlier games and, after command problems the first two innings, he was pleased with his command.
"Everything is coming along according to my plan," he said. "I'm up to 100 pitches [98 in this start], and I feel there's more life in my pitches, especially the fastball."
Ryu also was thrilled to get his first base hit since, well, he doesn't remember. He never hit as a professional in Korea. The hit came off White Sox starter Jake Peavy.
"I was a little bit dumbfounded," he said. "I squared the ball up and was really happy. Especially against a Cy Young Award winner. But he knew he was facing a pitcher, and he was throwing nothing but fastballs."
Uribe sits with a tight right hamstring
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe was scratched from Saturday night's starting lineup because of tightness in his right hamstring.
Alfredo Amezaga started in place of Uribe at third base.
Uribe is considered in the mix to share third base with Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston as long as Luis Cruz plays shortstop in place of the injured Hanley Ramirez.
Back with LA, Hanley in cast for three weeks
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Injured Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez returned to Camelback Ranch on Saturday, one day after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right thumb ligament. He was given permission to spend a few days at his Miami home before rejoining the club and rehabbing in earnest.
Manager Don Mattingly said that the Dodgers' medical department believes Ramirez will be able to "do some things" baseball-wise even with his thumb in its current cast.
Ramirez is expected to wear the cast for three weeks before he can start range of motion and baseball activities. Mattingly indicated that Ramirez would still be able to field ground balls and receive throws while working on his footwork at shortstop.
As for replacements, Saturday night's lineup had Luis Cruz at shortstop and Juan Uribe at third base. Mattingly would not commit to this being his Opening Day lineup against the Giants and starter Matt Cain.
But if Cruz is indeed Mattingly's starting shortstop, the matchups for third base against Cain are: Uribe is 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, Nick Punto has not faced the righty and Jerry Hairston is 4-for-14.
Billingsley feels on track for first start of season
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chad Billingsley came out of his Minor League start on Saturday saying he anticipates being ready for his first regular-season start for the Dodgers on April 2.
"The way it's going now, as long as there are no setbacks, I plan to be ready," said Billingsley, who is nursing a bruised right index finger.
Billingsley injured the finger bunting in batting practice and had to miss a start. In his 92-pitch outing on Saturday, he did not throw curveballs as a precautionary measure for his fingernail. He allowed the Cleveland Indians' Minor Leaguers two runs on four hits, four walks and seven strikeouts.
Manager Don Mattingly said Billingsley would start April 2 only if he can throw curveballs.
"You want a guy to have all his weapons," said Mattingly. "It's tough enough without having all of them."
Billingsley explained that he "spikes" his fingertip into the ball to grip the curve and there is concern that the nail could be dislodged, which would result in a lengthier rehab. The pitch hit Billingsley just below the fingernail.
Billingsley said he hoped to throw curveballs in his bullpen session on Monday as a prep for his final Spring Training start on Thursday. The Dodgers plan for that to be in a Minor League game at Rancho Cucamonga, but they are waiting for a ruling whether playing in that game would jeopardize the club's ability to place Billingsley on the disabled list retroactively should he have a setback.
Billingsley said he would "cross that bridge when we come to it" when asked if he'd be comfortable pitching in a Major League game without a curveball, but also said there are games when he doesn't feel he has other pitches and still competes.
Dodger Stadium upgrades ready for Opening Day
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers president Stan Kasten said on Saturday that the club will sell a record 31,000 season tickets for 2013 and the Dodger Stadium renovation, which will cost "north of" $100 million, will be complete by Opening Day.
"I'm happy, proud, and a little surprised that it did get done," Kasten said of the ambitious construction project that included total makeover of the clubhouse in time for Friday's exhibition game against the Angels, as well as fan improvements on every level.
Kasten's two disclaimers: cellphone service upgrades won't be complete until the second homestand and facility-wide wi-fi won't be operational until June because of the extensive rewiring that was necessary in the 51-year-old ballpark.
But in a compliment to late owner Walter O'Malley, who built the structure, and original architect Emil Praeger, Kasten said that "structurally, the stadium can last a very, very long time.
"I don't know the outer limits on the life of it, engineering-wise and structurally," Kasten said.
However, Kasten asked for fans patience on Opening Day, when the club breaks in new systems in an old stadium while servicing a sellout crowd of 56,000.
"Traffic will be a challenge, so come early," he said. "Opening Day is always a challenge. The irony is it's the toughest day to work with the fewest no-shows. We're using new systems and the only way is under fire. We know there will be bugs and glitches. I hope they're patient with us."
Kasten said the franchise wasn't as concerned with the final cost as it was being "driven by getting it right."
"We did what we could do in one offseason," he said.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.