It’s been a month since Bryce Harper played in a major-league baseball game, a month in which his name was being spoken of in reverential terms.
In his absence, Yasiel Puig, Chris Davis and Mike Trout have gotten all the attention.
In Los Angeles, they’re chanting “MVPuig” and the Dodgers’ outfielder completed a historic June with a 4-for-5 performance in which he just missed hitting for the cycle. Not bad for Puig’s first month in the majors.
The 22-year-old Cuban rookie, called up on June 3, collected 44 hits in 26 games. Just how good a month for a rookie is that? Only Joe DiMaggio (with 48 hits in May 1936, had more hits in his first month in the majors. Puig and DiMaggio also are the only players to have at least 40 hits and four home runs in their first month.
While the MVPuig chants may be a wee bit premature, he has fired up the Dodgers, who are just four games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West. That matters more to Puig than history.
“I’m really excited to be part of that list,” Puig said, “but more excited that the team is winning.”
Now, he starts July with a clean slate and June goes in the books looking like this: 26 games, .436 average, seven home runs, 13 extra-base hits, 12 RBI, four stolen bases and 19 runs scored. Along the way, he also crashed into the right field wall at Dodger Stadium, a la the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper. But, unlike Harper, Puig emerged unscathed, with Manager Don Mattingly joking that “they checked the wall. It’s fine.”
So are the Dodgers, who’ve won eight of their last nine games with Puig fast becoming must-see TV.
“Nobody’s going to the bathroom or taking a break when he comes up, that’s for sure,” Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis said. “He’s pretty amazing. Pretty special. And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He’s definitely changed this clubhouse, changed the culture.”
In Baltimore, Davis has done the same, although his story, as The Post’s Dave Sheinin writes, isn’t one of the can’t-miss prospect:
The story of how Davis morphed from a Four-A flameout for the Texas Rangers in the summer of 2011 to the most prolific slugger in the majors for the Baltimore Orioles in the summer of 2013 is one of perseverance, faith and personal growth.
But it is also an example of how baseball is sometimes flat-out wrong. Sometimes you are more than what you appear to be at 25. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh start and a team willing to give you a proper chance, as the Orioles did after a fateful July 2011 trade.
“I think there was always the potential to put this kind of production up,” Davis, 27, said at his locker last week at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “I think the biggest thing this year is the fact I’ve been in [the lineup] every day.”
The numbers are staggering: Through Sunday, Davis’s 31 home runs lead the majors by a half-dozen and put him on pace to hit 61 by year’s end. His slugging percentage of .728 also leads the majors by a wide margin and, should it stay there, would be the highest recorded since Barry Bonds in 2004. He also leads the majors in total bases (217) and extra-base hits (56) and ranked second in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.135).
But the numbers alone hardly do justice to Davis’s breathtaking power. He doesn’t hit fluky wall-scrapers or wind-blown luck-jobs. He hits towering moon shots, screaming three-woods and tape-measure rockets. He has also been known to hit homers with a broken bat, off his front foot, with one hand and on pitches well outside the strike zone.
Trout, the American League rookie of the year to Harper’s NL rookie of the year last year, has been the name with which Harper is most often linked and he started the Angels’ first 81 games, playing in all but seven of the team’s 735 innings before getting Sunday off as a precaution because of a tight hamstring. He’s hitting .315 with a .392 on-base percentage, .545 slugging percentage, 13 home runs, 52 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases. That’s the kind of season that makes a person wonder, Sheinin writes, what exactly is Trout’s ceiling?
Now, Harper is ready to return from his first stint on the disabled list and he’s in a new position. He looked for all the world like he might be having an MVP season himself. Now, he’s got some catching up to do.