Puig gets closer to returning
Dodgers outfielder to start minor league rehab assignment with Rancho Cucamonga.
DENVER — The Dodgers lineup could soon be more dynamic and their clubhouse louder.
Yasiel Puig is close to returning.
Puig is scheduled to start a minor league rehabilitation assignment Thursday with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. The All-Star right fielder could be back in the major league lineup by the end of next week, Manager Don Mattingly said before the Dodgers lost to the Colorado Rockies, 7-6, Wednesday at Coors Field.
Puig, who has been sidelined for more than five weeks because of a strained left hamstring, won’t be the only potential reinforcement from Cuba who will start playing in minor league
Hector Olivera, the 30year-old infielder who finalized a $62.5-million contract last month, will make his professional debut with double-A Tulsa. Olivera has been working out in recent weeks at the Dodgers’ complex in Arizona.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, has said he expects Olivera to reach the major leagues this season. Olivera is also expected to play with triple-A Oklahoma City.
The return of Puig and addition of Olivera will significantly alter the Dodgers lineup.
When Puig returns, he will reclaim his role as the everyday right fielder. Andre Ethier, who has played the position in Puig’s absence, will move to left field.
Joc Pederson will remain in center field.
With Carl Crawford sidelined for at least four more weeks because of a torn side muscle, the left-handed-hitting Ethier is expected to start most of the games in left field. Alex Guerrero, a righthanded hitter, will presumably start there only on days in which the Dodgers face a left-handed pitcher.
Between left field and third base, Guerrero should continue to be a frequent presence in the lineup. Guerrero began Wednesday batting .296 with 10 home runs and 25 runs batted in. The only Dodgers with more home runs are Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez.
However, some starts in left field could go to Scott Van Slyke when Van Slyke returns from the disabled list. Van Slyke, another righthanded hitter, was put on the DL Sunday because of back inflammation.
Guerrero could also be affected by Olivera’s anticipated promotion, whenever it happens.
Olivera spent the majority of his career in his home country as a second baseman.
Though Olivera’s longterm future with the Dodgers could be at second base — current starter Howie Kendrick will become a free agent this off-season — he is unlikely to displace Kendrick as the starter this season.
That makes Olivera most likely to play third base, a position Guerrero shares with utility man Justin Turner.
The Dodgers already traded a third baseman in Juan Uribe, who was sent to the Atlanta Braves. Olivera could make Guerrero or Turner expendable, though Guerrero could draw limited trade interest because of a clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent at the end of the season if he is traded.
While Olivera will be in Tulsa on Thursday playing against the Midland RockHounds, Puig will be in Lancaster with the Dodgers’ Class-A affiliate.
This will be the second rehabilitation assignment for Puig, who landed on the DL on April 26.
The first started May 7 and ended May 8, when Puig was removed from a game after straining his hamstring again.
Puig has been working out at the Dodgers’ Arizona facility for more than a week. Based on the reports he has received, Mattingly sounded optimistic Puig’s leg would hold up this time.
While players often begin rehabilitation assignments as designated hitters, Puig is expected to start in right field in his first game.
“He’s doing really well in Arizona,” Mattingly said. “He’s running and everything. He’s been doing outfield drills.”
Mattingly said he was told by trainer Stan Conte that Puig is “doing more running now than he’ll do in a game.”