LOS ANGELES — Yasiel Puig(Yasiel Puig Jersey) crumpled into his clubhouse chair and put both hands over his face after speaking with reporters about his close relationship with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, the fellow Cuban who was killed earlier Sunday morning in a boating accident in Florida.
Puig had gotten to know Fernandez in 2013, when both were battling for NL Rookie of the Year honors, an award eventually won by Fernandez. They had dinner as recently as two weeks ago, when the Dodgers were in town for a three-game series.
“He was a very good guy and I also liked the way he played baseball,” Puig said through an interpreter before the Dodgers faced the Colorado Rockies in the finale of their three-game series. “The way he treated his mom and his grandma, his teammates and other ballplayers.”
Puig, who had two hits and five strikeouts in 11 career plate appearances against Fernandez, said facing the hard-throwing right-hander was the best part about playing the Marlins.
When he faced Puig for the final time in their most recent meeting (Sept. 9 at Marlins Park), Fernandez struck him out with a 98 mph fastball. Puig blew him a kiss as he headed back to the dugout.
Puig said Fernandez was the best pitcher in the majors behind Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
“I liked to face him,” Puig said. “We would joke around a lot, having a lot of fun. Sometimes, he would throw balls and I would tell him to throw strikes, and I think next time we face Miami and when we play baseball and he’s not there, I’m really going to miss him.”
After collecting himself in the dugout, Puig grabbed a Dodgers jersey with Fernandez’s name and number on the back and hung it in the dugout. Puig is scheduled to bat cleanup in Sunday’s regular-season home finale, a game that will clinch a fourth straight NL West title for the Dodgers if they can win.
Puig has batted fourth just three others times this season, marking a major step up for the right-fielder, whose first four months to this season were so tumultuous and inconsistent that he was sent down to the minors for all of August, only to return as a more disciplined player and better teammate. Puig credited Fernandez with giving him a sincere pep talk.
“When we were in Miami, he constantly gave me advice about how to better myself,” Puig said. “Now, I lost him.”