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Dodgers' James Loney raises batting average, but can he play power ball?

The first baseman enjoyed several hitting streaks this season but has only seven home runs. 'I've just been working on getting good pitches to hit,' he says.

July 18, 2009|Jim Peltz

James Loney is again proving himself a consistent hitter, even if the Dodgers' first baseman has yet to reach his potential in the eyes of Manager Joe Torre.

Loney, 25, had hit safely in 12 consecutive games before going 0 for 3 in Friday's 8-1 loss to the Houston Astros, batting .304 (14 for 46) during the streak.

It was Loney's longest streak of the season, topping an 11-game streak from May 17-28, when the Texas native batted .370.

The latest streak lifted Loney's overall average to .281, though it was down to .279 after Friday's game. But the question that has lingered for some time is whether he can hit for more power.

Loney has hit seven home runs, compared with Andre Ethier's 18 homers, Casey Blake's 12 and Matt Kemp's 11.

"I've just been working on getting good pitches to hit, getting in the zone, ready to drive the ball," said Loney, a left-handed batter who has hit safely in 13 of his last 16 games.

Loney said his stepped-up effort at the plate doesn't always require taking pitches until the right one comes along.

"It's not necessarily having to go deep in the count, but recognizing the right pitch right away and driving that pitch," he said.

"I'm trying to square up the ball" to consistently use "the sweet spot of the bat," rather than trying to focus merely on making contact, Loney said.

Torre said Loney has made progress.

"Eventually he's going to find that sweet spot where he's looking to hit it. Right now he's hitting the ball with more authority," Torre said, but added, "I don't think he really has the hitting figured out yet. He's working at it.

"At the start of the year I had big visions for him and I still do. I think he's going to hit a lot more home runs. When that's going to happen I can't tell you."

Loney is pretty clear on the concept of power though.

"When I try to drive the ball, the power will come from that, but it doesn't necessarily have to. The process is, you're trying to drive the ball and it could go out of the park. But it's not thinking, 'OK, I'll hit for power' " on a certain pitch."

Loney's durability, meanwhile, remains a non-issue. He has missed only one of the Dodgers' 90 games this season after playing in 161 of 162 last year.

Paul's progress

Outfielder Xavier Paul says he expects to be out for at least two more weeks.

Paul received his first major league call-up May 7 but then went on the disabled list May 21 because of a staph infection in his left knee.

He was sent to the Dodgers' spring training complex in Arizona to rehabilitate, but he crashed into the outfield fence and sprained his ankle.

Or so he thought. Because the pain didn't go away, Paul underwent an examination Monday that revealed micro-fractures in his ankle.

"I wish I could be a part of what's going on right now," Paul said during a visit to the Dodgers' clubhouse while on crutches. "That's probably the toughest thing. You go from your highest high to lowest low."

No decision

Asked whether the Dodgers had settled on a fifth starting pitcher in the aftermath of Eric Milton's season-ending back surgery, Torre replied, "We're still going through it. We'll have to have one by Monday. As soon as we for sure make up our mind we'll let you know."

Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.


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