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Dodgers hope fresh start rejuvenates Yasiel Puig

"I'm out there busting my buns every night. You tell your old man to try to hit Bumgarner and Cueto for nine innings."
"I'm out there busting my buns every night. You tell your old man to try to hit Bumgarner and Cueto for nine innings."
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- The sense from all parties involved on Saturday at Dodger Stadium was that the club is looking forward with outfielder Yasiel Puig, and not looking back to his disappointing, injury-riddled 2015 season nor to the comments reportedly made about him, attributed to ace Clayton Kershaw.

The comments in question came in November in a higher stakes game of telephone, with Andy Van Slyke — father of Scott Van Slyke — telling a St. Louis radio station that the club's highest-paid player told Dodgers management that the team would be better off with Puig off the team. Kershaw downplayed the comments on Saturday.

"The only thing I can say is that Scott's one of my best friends, and I believe whatever Scott says," Kershaw said. "But anything else that happens outside of that, I wouldn't pay much attention to."

Van Slyke the younger said he wasn't spreading any team gossip, and that any conclusions his father might have drawn were his own and not based on anything any teammates said to him.

Van Slyke apologized to Kershaw, but didn't feel the need to apologize to Puig.

"That was a mishap, and I'd rather put that behind me," Van Slyke said. "You guys have seen me with Yasi every day, and I love the kid. I think he's a benefit to our team, and my feelings toward him won't change."

Puig and Kershaw were together in December as part of MLB's goodwill trip to Cuba. Kershaw didn't offer much detail as to the pair's interaction on the trip.

"We talked," Kershaw said. "It's great."

Puig confirmed that the two talked in Cuba, and that they would talk again in spring training "to make sure the team is on the same page."

"It's important for all of our guys to have respect for each other. And that may manifest itself in going out to dinner with guys," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "With others it might be different."

What's more important regarding Puig is that he is healthy and productive in 2016, after being limited to 79 games in 2015. He had two stints in the disabled list, one for hamstrings in each leg, missing over a month each time.

When he was on the field, Puig hit .255/.322/.436, career lows across the board, with 11 home runs and 12 doubles. To that end, the team wanted Puig to come to camp lighter and leaner this season.

"He looks great. He's worked extremely hard. It was never a weight issue in a classic sense," Friedman explained. "But with just how big and how strong he has gotten, if he was playing in the NFL once a week it would be great.

"But the fact is there are 162 games in the regular season plus the postseason, with so few off days. Our challenge to him was to maintain the strength but to remain healthy for 162 plus."

Puig on Saturday also had his much-anticipated sit-down meeting with new manager Dave Roberts. The theme was similar, looking forward and not backward.

"It's more of 'Let's wipe the slate clean and start anew' with a completely different coaching staff," Roberts said. "We just want him to be himself, and let's start fresh."

And should Puig being himself cause conflict in the clubhouse, don't expect Andy Van Slyke to hear about it, at least not right away.

"I don't think any top secret information will be flying his way any time soon," Scott Van Slyke joked.