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Opposite attracts Loney

June 17, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

CINCINNATI -- Don Mattingly is trying to encourage James Loney to get back to the basics and embrace what Manager Joe Torre calls his single greatest gift, his ability to hit the ball to the opposite field.

Mattingly, who was unable to be the Dodgers' hitting coach because of family issues and was reassigned to be a special assignment coach, has always had words of advice for Loney whenever the team has traveled to play near his home in Evansville, Ind.

When the Dodgers were in Chicago last month, Mattingly talked to Loney about using his bottom hand more to guide his swing.

Over the weekend in Detroit, he told him to shorten his swing and try to avoid lifting the ball to left field.

"That's his strength, to be able to hit the ball that way naturally," said Mattingly, who, like Loney, was a left-handed-hitting first baseman.

That strength would be enhanced, Mattingly said, by leveling his swing, keeping his bat in the strike zone longer and hitting line drives.

"He wants me getting in the habit of taking line-drive swings," said Loney, who is hitting .295. "There were a couple of times I lifted the ball to left. I wasn't trying to, obviously, but he wants me to concentrate on that more."

Enough so that Torre said he recently went out of his way to compliment Loney for hitting the ball sharply to the opposite side on a swing that resulted in a double play.

Loney, who came up through the minor league system with a reputation of lacking power, admitted that his occasional displays of strength sometimes take him away from what got him to the majors. He hit 15 home runs last season, nine in the final month. He has five this year.

"A lot of players, when they get a count in their favor, they try to hit a home run," Torre said. "It's not that easy."

Mattingly said that it's fine that Loney tries to get lift on pitches that are on the inside part of the plate, but that pulling the ball is something he can learn later in his career.

He said it was important that Loney ignores any skepticism about his power, noting that similar doubts were expressed about himself, Jim Edmonds and Garret Anderson early in their careers.

"Everybody loves hitting homers, but most of the time, homers don't come from trying to hit them," Mattingly said.

Loney agreed.

"When you do keep it simple and do keep it short, it seems like the home runs just happen," he said.

Loney was five for 11 with two doubles and three runs in the Dodgers' three losses in Detroit.

Mattingly said that because his teenage son is on summer vacation, he will be able to spend more time with the Dodgers next month.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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