NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Yankees had a first-hand look at Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday and came away mightily impressed.
“He hits the ball hard, I can tell you that. He’s got a very good arm and he’s aggressive,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after New York’s 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in the afternoon portion of a day-night doubleheader.
“He’s a good-looking young player.”
The 22-year-old Puig, who burst on the scene since being called up by the Dodgers in the beginning of the month, had two hits, including a single to center that he stretched into a double, and nearly threw out Thomas Neal at first on a single to right.
Puig, who made his Major League Baseball debut on June 3, went 2-for-5 but saw his average dip seven points from his blistering .479 entering the game.
An impressive combination of size, power and speed who signed with the Dodgers for seven years and $42 million, the native of Cienfuegos hit four home runs in his first five big league games, including a grand slam and a blast measuring a majestic 443 feet.
It was a memorable day at Yankee Stadium for right-handed hitter Puig, who also saw some of his heroes first-hand.
“I am so happy to play with the Dodgers and to be here at Yankee Stadium, and to have the opportunity to play against a team that has some of the players I admire the most, (Robinson) Cano, Ichiro Suzuki, Mariano Rivera,” he told reporters in Spanish.
Ichiro put on quite a show, going 3-for-4 with a solo home run and three runs batted in addition to a brilliant catch that saw him bang against the wall in right field to save some runs late in the game.
The Japanese outfielder was also struck by Puig’s talents.
“Even though he was facing pitchers he’s never faced before, he seemed to square the ball up on every at-bat, hitting the ball hard,” Ichiro said.
“The base-running and also the defense, he’s really aggressive. I think he has a huge impact on this game,” Ichiro through an interpreter. “A very interesting player.”
“You see that he’s an aggressive young player that has tools. I mean a lot of tools. He has speed, he has power. He has a good arm. You can recognize the tools right away.
“Obviously this is a game of adjustments, as people see you when you go around the league the first time. But there’s an awful lot to like about this kid.”
Puig went into the batters box against Rivera, MLB’s all-time saves leader who came on in the ninth to close out the victory for his 25th save of the season.
Girardi watched that confrontation with special interest.
“I’m sure Puig has heard about Mo for a long, long time and he’s probably had a desire to play in the major leagues for a long time and probably hoped that he’d see him one day,” said Girardi.
“It was a good match-up. (Mo got) behind him 2-0 and then Mo does what he does. He paints, makes good pitches and got him out,” he added of the called third strike on Puig that ended the game.
Hiroki Kuroda, who began his major league career with the Dodgers, picked up the win to improve to 7-5, while South Korean Ryu Hyun-jin took the loss, falling to 6-3.
Puig gave the Yankees more to admire in the 6-0 Los Angeles victory in the night half of the twin bill.
The Cuban went 2-for-4 with a home run and a stolen base after being hit by a pitch. That raised his average to .474 in the first Dodgers visit to the Bronx since their World Series-clinching victory in Game Six of the 1981 Fall Classic.
Editing by Ian Ransom