SAN FRANCISCO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have gone to Option No. 4 in their quest to find an every-day center fielder.
After moving Matt Kemp out of the position in May because they were unsatisfied with his defense, and tiring of the lack of speed from the next two players they tried there, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, the Dodgers have decided to make Yasiel Puig their center fielder.
Puig returned from a hand injury and started in center for Friday night's opener of a crucial three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. He had only four chances in center. Three of them were routine, but he ran down a Buster Posey warning-track drive to left-center in the ninth that might have eluded the Dodgers' other center-field candidates.
He also tied a franchise record with three triples and added a double and two RBIs as the Dodgers moved within a half-game of National League West-leading San Francisco by beating the Giants 8-1. It was the most triples by a Dodgers player since Brooklyn's Jimmy Sheckard had three in 1901. The last player with three triples in a game was Denard Span for Minnesota in 2010.
"I just want to be on the field helping my team win," Puig said after the game. "Whatever position they ask me to play, I'm going to do my best. I do prefer center field a little bit, because I can run more."
Three days earlier, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he hadn't tried Puig in center yet because he plays "out of control most of the time" and "he scares the other outfielders."
Mattingly said he and the coaches sat down with Puig on Friday and stressed the importance of communicating with the other outfielders. Puig started six games in center last year but hadn't started there all season until Friday.
"We feel, with our combination of guys, this may be our best chance in center field," Mattingly said. "It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be forever -- or as long as he plays. We don't really know, but we know he's physically capable of handling the spot."
Mattingly said the idea arose when he saw how comfortable Kemp looked playing right field, Puig's former position, earlier in the week in Pittsburgh. Kemp, however, has made it clear, mostly through agent Dave Stewart, that he wants to return to center field. Since the Dodgers shifted his position May 26, Kemp has said he considers himself a center fielder and Stewart has told reporters that he thinks his client is being treated unfairly.
On Friday, Stewart made his most pointed comments yet, implying to CBSSports.com that Kemp wants to be traded.
"Eight years is a long time to be in one place," Stewart said. "Sometimes change is good. This might be the time to change."
Mattingly said he doesn't think Kemp's unhappiness with the situation will detract from the team's focus as it jockeys with the Giants for dominance of the NL West.
"I can't speak for Matt, what he feels, what he thinks, but obviously we've got him in right field. We like him enough to put him in the lineup," Mattingly said. "We think he gives us a good chance to win."