1st pinch-hit HR for Puig has Roberts raving

Outfielder contributing since returning to Dodgers from Minors

1st pinch-hit HR for Puig has Roberts raving

NEW YORK -- The Dodgers had a four-run lead over the Yankees in the eighth inning Monday night, but their offense had stalled out against New York's left-handed middle relievers. So manager Dave Roberts called on Yasiel Puig, and Puig -- in a role in which he has struggled in his career -- delivered.

Pinch-hitting for Joc Pederson against Yankees southpaw James Pazos, Puig drove a two-out solo home run into the short porch in right field. It was a long ball made for Yankee Stadium and it gave the Dodgers some extra cushion during their 8-2 win in the series opener.

"Yasiel has continued to grow as a baseball player, as a teammate, as a man. For him to be ready when called upon off the bench, and be anxious to help his team win, that's outstanding," Roberts said. "And I think -- and I know -- that his teammates see that."

Puig had never hit a pinch-hit home run in his career. Entering Monday, the 25-year-old was 3-for-23 with 10 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter in his four Major League seasons. He was 0-for-9 as a pinch-hitter this season.

The polarizing outfielder has had to pinch-hit more often this year than in prior ones, and to Roberts, Puig's homer against the Yankees was indicative of how he's embraced that and how he's continuing to mature.

"The ultimate thing," Roberts said, "is you want the respect of your teammates. For the game to reward him like that, as he was preparing before, and for him to go out there and hit a homer, that was great."

Since returning from the Minor Leagues at the beginning of September, Puig has found ways to help the National League West leaders, who are seeking a fourth straight division title. He's homered three times, earned several starts in the outfield and made a tremendous diving catch Saturday to temporarily preserve Rich Hill's perfect-game bid. On Monday, he added to the list with his pinch-hit homer, and he said he's willing to keep doing that job.

"That's the decision that they've made, and I have to be ready to help the team off the bench," Puig said through his translator.

In fact, Roberts said he thinks Puig contributing off the bench is more impressive than him having a good day in the starting lineup.

"I do. Because I think that as a starter, there was a point where he was expected to be out there every day, and he got used to it," Roberts said. "For Yasiel to, No. 1, embrace that, go down below in the cage, get ready to hit, and to take that at-bat and get rewarded, I think there's a little validation for him. All the credit goes to him."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.