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He needs a minor adjustment

August 03, 2008|Bill Shaikin

Andruw Jones hit 342 home runs before he turned 30.

Manny Ramirez hit 277 home runs before he turned 30.

It is sobering to realize how quickly Jones has fallen from greatness. He turned 30 just last year.

His career might be over. Jones and the Dodgers owe it to each other to do their best to find out.

The Dodgers ought to ask Jones to go to the minor leagues, and he ought to say yes.

He was supposed to be the Dodgers' big bat. He hit a career-low .222 for the Atlanta Braves last season. He hit 26 home runs, which would have led the Dodgers but represented his lowest total since his rookie season of 1997.

In desperate need of a power hitter, the Dodgers signed him to a two-year, $36-million contract last winter, essentially betting he would maintain his pop even if his batting average did not recover.

He is hitting .161, with two home runs. He strikes out almost four times every 10 at-bats.

He is no longer supposed to be the Dodgers' big bat. The Dodgers imported Ramirez for that role Thursday, with Jones sentenced to the bench.

The Dodgers are not helping Jones, or helping themselves, by keeping him in L.A.

He has no business taking at-bats from Andre Ethier, the Dodgers' other backup outfielder. If the Dodgers really need a fifth outfielder who can serve as a defensive replacement for Ramirez or Juan Pierre, then Jason Repko is a phone call away.

Jones isn't going to help the Dodgers win the National League West this season. They ought to figure out whether he can help them win next season.

They can't do that unless he plays every day, so they can tell whether his knee is getting stronger and his swing is getting better. They need him to get four at-bats every day, so he can apply the remedies prescribed by hitting coaches Don Mattingly and Jeff Pentland.

Manager Joe Torre said the idea of asking Jones to go to the minor leagues has not been discussed.

"I'd like to see some way we haven't thought of to help him," Torre said. "As far as the minor leagues, I don't know what we're allowed to do.

"It doesn't really work unless the player is going to buy into it."

The Dodgers cannot send Jones to the minors without his consent, because he has more than five years' service in the majors. They ought to call him -- and his agent, Scott Boras -- into a meeting and ask for that consent.

The Dodgers would tell Jones they have not given up on him for next year, that a few weeks in the minors could only help. They would invite him to pick the minor league affiliate for which he would like to play -- maybe at triple-A Las Vegas, maybe close to his Georgia home at double-A Jacksonville, maybe close to Dodger Stadium at Class-A Inland Empire.

They would send Pentland with him, assigned as his personal hitting coach. And they would promise to recall him when rosters expand Sept. 1, with his postseason eligibility preserved because the Dodgers would have the loophole option to submit a playoff roster with Tony Abreu's name and substitute Jones for the injured Abreu.

Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' general manager, said he has not decided whether to ask Jones to go to the minors.

"I don't know," Colletti said. "It's something I'll have to talk over with Joe, to see what his thoughts are, see what our hitting coaches' thoughts are, see what Andruw's thoughts are.

"We have to get Andruw right."

Boras would not entertain the question of whether Jones might be better off spending a few weeks in the minor leagues. He agreed to speak to the question of how he believed the arrival of Ramirez would impact Jones.

"I'm excited about Manny and Andruw talking hitting," Boras said.

"It's a matter of time. We all know that. The skills are there. He's got to get that consistency back. When he does, I'm sure Andruw will be back in center field."

There is no way for Jones to recover that consistency -- or, at least, to try to do so -- sitting on the bench. Hitting is timing, and timing is difficult enough to maintain with four at-bats every day, nearly impossible with four at-bats per week.

He needs to get away from Dodger Stadium, at least for now. He does not need constant reminders that he has not hit a home run here this year. Ramirez already has one. So does CC Sabathia.

Jones is a proud man, and justifiably so. His career has been exceptional. He did not come here to sit on the bench, to watch a pennant race go on without him, or to go to the minor leagues.

But the Dodgers have given him every chance to succeed this year. Now they ought to give him his best chance to succeed next year, and he ought to take it.


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