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Yasiel Puig About to Be Challenged By Matt Kemp

Published on Much has been made about Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly pulling rookie sensation Yasiel Puig out of the middle of a game Aug. 28 at Dodger Stadium.

To many, it seemed like the final straw in an effort to get the Cuban outfielder to play the right way. It was a bold decision by Mattingly, but it was the right decision. If Puig wants to play, he's going to have to play hard for all nine innings.

But the pressure on Puig to perform according to professional standards is not going to come from just his manager. Outfielder Matt Kemp, who has played only one game in the past two months due to various injuries, is set to rejoin the Dodgers following a brief minor-league rehab assignment that begins Thursday. When Kemp returns to the lineup, Los Angeles will be faced with the dilemma of having four highly paid outfielders for only three spots. As Mattingly bluntly put it, "someone's going to be mad," meaning the skipper will likely have to mix and match.

However, Mattingly's upcoming decision regarding which outfielder takes a seat on any given day might be made easier if Puig continues to be an issue for the first-place Dodgers. Last week, Puig was benched and later fined after showing up late to a game. On Wednesday, he didn't slide to break up a double play and later reported to the media through an interpreter that his manager told him he was yanked because he "wasn't prepared well for each pitch" while on defense in right field.

A month ago, these mishaps were overlooked because Puig's overall production outweighed his negative contributions. But with Puig's batting average cooling off from .391 before the All-Star break to .299 afterward, his fundamental deficiencies have become magnified — and they will be even more glaring when the lights are brightest in the postseason.

Kemp is the offensive face of the franchise, but his fragility this season has taken him off the radar. The Dodgers are going to need his bat in the playoffs and will have to give him as many at-bats as possible in September in order to allow him to find his timing for October. In essence, Kemp will be the most talented September call-up any team will receive next month.

The Dodgers' other two outfielders, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, have been producing at a higher level than Puig in recent weeks, both offensively and defensively. All of this means that for the first time as a big leaguer, Puig's job security as a consistent starter has never been more tenuous. Mattingly sent the message loud and clear by giving him a half-game suspension à la Johnny Manziel. Utilityman Skip Schumaker was chosen to fill Puig's vacancy in right field on Wednesday. Of course, the Dodgers can't afford to replace Puig with Schumaker every day.

But replacing Puig with a player like Kemp? That's more realistic. A former MVP candidate is breathing down Puig's neck. Time will tell how the Cuban rookie handles the biggest challenge of his young career.