Dodgers first baseman James Loney is hoping to put his struggles at the plate… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S.…)
Reporting from San Diego — James Loney saw what happened to Russell Martin last winter.
Martin was in line for a raise, but his production was declining. The Dodgers let go of the two-time All-Star catcher, who went on to sign with the New York Yankees.
Loney could be subjected to a similar fate at the end of the season. Because he is eligible for salary arbitration, he is expected to receive a significant raise from his 2011 salary of $4.875 million if the Dodgers tender him a contract.
"They have a decision to make, and I want it easy on them to bring me back," Loney said. "But I have to play well; I have to play up to my talent level."
First, he has to play, period.
Loney was out of the lineup for the Dodgers' game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on Wednesday night, as Manager Don Mattingly opted to start Juan Rivera at first base and bat him fifth.
With Loney batting a career-low .251 with a modest 34 runs batted in, Mattingly said he had to turn to someone else to adequately protect cleanup hitter Matt Kemp.
Mattingly said he plans to play Rivera in most games, either at first base or in left field. On days such as Wednesday, when Mattingly wanted to start defensive wizard Tony Gwynn Jr. in left field because of the number of right-handed hitters in the Padres' lineup, Loney will sit.
Loney said he understands.
"I think whoever's playing well is going to play," he said. "That's how it should be."
Loney had a particularly rough July, batting .176 and driving in five runs.
But the affable and quirky first baseman has maintained his sense of humor.
"Matt Kemp's been taking a lot of my RBIs," he said. "You can put 'LOL' behind that."
Mattingly, who was the Dodgers' hitting coach in each of the previous three seasons, said he doesn't know what happened to the player who batted .309 and drove in 63 runs by the All-Star break last season.
Since then, Loney is hitting .235 with 59 RBIs in 617 at-bats.
Mattingly said he doesn't know which player is the real Loney.
But as far out of first place as the Dodgers might be, Mattingly said he hasn't reached the point at which he would play Loney every day for the sake of finding out the answer to that question.
While Mattingly maintained that Loney could still be the player he was at the end of last season, he appears to be ready to concede that he might not ever become a home-run threat.
Loney hit 15 home runs in 96 games as a rookie in 2007 but only 36 over the next three seasons. He has four home runs this year.
"It hasn't to this point and it's been a while," Mattingly said.
Mattingly said Loney's attitude isn't the problem.
"I love James," Mattingly said. "Everything that James has got, he's trying to give to us. That's what I admire about James so much."
For his part, Loney said he hasn't started worrying about his future with the Dodgers. But he made it clear he wants to return.
"I love playing here," he said. "I've been playing with these guys forever. I've been through the ups and downs with these guys. It's been an enjoyable ride. Hopefully, we can continue this as long as we can."