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Bill Plaschke

Dodgers must wait and see with Jones

March 06, 2008|Bill Plaschke

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It's the oddest sight in camp. It's the loudest whisper in camp.

People are staring, people are talking, everybody is wondering, there's no way around it.

Literally, no way around it.

Andruw Jones looks heavy.

The newest Dodgers center fielder looks like the newest Dodgers wrestler.

He stalks up to home plate in his Dodgers whites and you're like, this is him?

This is the sleek center fielder who has won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves?

This is the sturdy star who has never missed more than nine games in a season?

This is the Dodgers' athletic new stud?

The Dodgers won't say if they are worried, but they have to be worried.

Jones smiles and says he will be fine, but the numbers don't lie.

At his peak, when he hit 40-plus home runs with 120-plus runs batted in, he weighed 235 pounds.

He is now about 10 pounds heavier.

At his peak, he was 28 years old.

He will spend most of this season at age 31.

"You gain weight when you get older, it happens to everyone, it's just a fact," Jones said.

That fact could be wearing on his spring batting average, which is .118 after seven games.

He has one single, one double, one RBI and a whole bunch of at-bats that looked like his three against the New York Mets on Tuesday.

In the first inning against Johan Santana, he struck out flailing.

In the third inning against Santana, he bounced weakly to shortstop.

In the sixth inning against Scott Schoeneweis, he bounced out weakly again.

He hasn't had any eventful occurrences in center field but, then again, he hasn't played that many innings yet.

Jones, who has the Chinese characters for "Bull" tattooed on the back of his neck, repeats that he will be fine.

"I know how I have to feel, I know how strong my legs have to be, I'm working hard to get there," he said.

The Dodgers have no choice but to trust him.

"Given he's new here, given his track record, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt," Manager Joe Torre said. "But that doesn't mean we don't have people paying attention to what he's doing."

Jones said his weight issues dated to last season, a disappointing free-agent audition during which he said he was too light.

"Preparing for that year, my wife and I had a weight-loss contest," he said. "She won, I lost."

Did he ever, dropping 15 pounds, reporting to his Atlanta Braves job at 220 pounds.

"I was too light," he said. "I never felt right."

Several times, he said he hit fly balls that fell just short of the fence, and he wondered.

"I thought it was my weight," he said. "I thought I needed to get it back up."

His 26 homers equaled the lowest of his 10-year full-time career. His 94 RBIs were his lowest total in three seasons. His on-base percentage dropped 51 points.

Folks thought he was either trying too hard to get a big contract or hide a big injury.

"It was none of those things," Jones said. "I think my body was too light."

This winter, he did not make the same mistake.

"I ate what I wanted, I did what I wanted, I tried to get back to normal," Jones said.

Well, he did.

And then some.

"I wasn't surprised when I saw my weight this spring," he said. "I want to be heavier. I want my legs to be stronger."

But now that he has realized that maybe he went a bit overboard, he's running more, and working the weights harder.

"I'll be fine," he said. "I know I can still chase down fly balls. I know I can still swing a bat. I know what I have to do."

The Dodgers will watch, and hope.

Even though they were able to sign him to only a two-year deal, they still will pay him $18 million a year, the highest annual value of a single contract in Dodgers history.

That's a lot of money for a weight issue that could lead to injury and ineffectiveness.

"We know that in the past, he felt he was too light and it affected his performance," Torre said. "We have to respect that."

The Dodgers are counting on Jones to respect them.

Earlier this spring, Torre walked over to Jones while he was stretching. Torre asked him, in his most fatherly Torre voice, whether he could remember his weight during his peak seasons.

"I told him 235 pounds," Jones said. "He didn't say anything else."

Torre didn't need to say anything else.

Here's hoping Jones heard every word.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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