LOS ANGELES (AP) — Seeking an offensive spark for a team mired in last place and dogged by injuries, the Los Angeles Dodgers are turning to prized prospect Yasiel Puig.
The Cuban defector was called up on Monday from Double-A Chattanooga, where he hit .313 with eight homers, 37 RBIs and 13 steals in 40 games. His batting average and a .599 slugging percentage led the Southern League.
"It's exciting," manager Don Mattingly said. "He has a chance to give you some energy."
The 22-year-old outfielder batted leadoff, singling to center field in his major league debut. He wasn't on base long, with Nick Punto grounding into a double play.
Puig played right field, with Andre Ethier moving to center in place of injured Matt Kemp, who is on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Left fielder Carl Crawford went on the DL on Monday with a strained hamstring.
"I was really excited," Puig said through a translator about his reaction to being called up. "I want to help the Dodgers win and fight the battle."
Puig takes the roster spot of right-hander Matt Magill, who was returned to the minors following a spot start on Sunday. Los Angeles also promoted Stephen Fife from Triple-A Albuquerque, and he started Monday night against San Diego in place of Chris Capuano.
Puig signed a $42 million, seven-year contract with the Dodgers last June. He showed signs of living up to the hype in spring training, hitting .517 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games before he was sent to the minors.
With Crawford, Kemp and Ethier starting, there wasn't going to be playing time for Puig. Now with two-thirds of the outfield hurt, that's no longer a problem.
"We all got a chance to see what he could do in spring training. If it can be anything like that it could be fun to watch," Mattingly said.
"We're going to have a guy that possibly makes some mistakes. If he does, hopefully he doesn't make the same mistake twice."
Mattingly compared Puig to former major leaguer Bo Jackson because the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder's body reminds him of an NFL running back.
"He does so many things," the manager said, citing Puig's "raw speed, power, energy."
Dodgers fans aren't the only ones curious about Puig.
"He's very talented. He's got a lot of tools," San Diego Padres manager Bud Black said before Monday night's game. "He's got some power, he's got some speed, he has a good throwing arm. It looks like he can hit."
Whether Puig plays well enough to stick around or this becomes nothing more than a brief taste of the majors remains to be seen. The Dodgers will be looking for evidence of maturity on the part of Puig, who was arrested in April for driving 97 mph in a 50-mph zone in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"They've had plenty of people talk to him about it," Mattingly said.
Mattingly wonders how Puig will react if he struggles against big league pitching.
"The difference between the minors and majors is adjustments," Mattingly said. "The guys who can make them seem to stick."
Mattingly mentioned Puig's confidence as one of his attributes, and the center fielder had it on display.
"Finally made it to the major leagues," he said. "I know I can help the team play."