James Loney walks past fans before a spring training game against San Francisco… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
Reporting from Phoenix — From the way James Loney nonchalantly walked across the clubhouse to the way Manager Don Mattingly talked, nothing indicated the problem was serious.
But the Dodgers couldn't be sure enough.
Saturday night, the Dodgers received the confirmation they wanted, as team doctors determined that Loney would be sidelined for only a couple of days by his swollen left knee.
Loney underwent an MRI exam earlier in the day, the result of his complaining of stiffness after playing on Friday night.
Team physicians Neal ElAttrache and Brian Shafer set forth a plan that calls for Loney to rest on Sunday, and hit and throw on Monday. If Loney improves as expected, he could play in a Cactus League game as early as Wednesday.
Loney didn't speak to reporters.
Mattingly never seemed concerned, describing the MRI exam as a precautionary move.
"He's not feeling any pain," Mattingly said. "We just want to find out early."
According to Mattingly, Loney first felt tightness in his knee on Thursday. Nonetheless, he played the next day.
As much as Loney has been criticized for lack of power, the episode underscored his importance to the club. The first baseman, who will earn $4.875 million this year, drove in 88 runs last season, 63 of them before the All-Star break. He has averaged 160 games played over the last three years.
A conversation with Mattingly about his first base depth didn't inspire much confidence.
The first player Mattingly named as a potential backup at the position was Russ Mitchell, who batted .143 as a September call-up last year.
The rookie manager offered left-field platoon mates Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames as alternatives but acknowledged he probably wouldn't use either at first base in anything other than a late-inning double switch.
Casey Blake could play first base, but moving him would probably require Juan Uribe to move to third and utility man Jamey Carroll to start at second.
Kuo faces hitters
Left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo threw to hitters for the first time this spring, as he pitched an inning of live batting practice. To preserve his four-times-operated elbow, the Dodgers have Kuo on a conservative throwing program.
Kuo, who posted a franchise-record 1.20 ERA last season, said he threw all of his pitches — fastball, changeup and slider.
"I feel ready," Kuo said.
For the regular season?
"Maybe I need a couple of games," he said.
His first game could be Wednesday.
While Kuo is yet to throw in a game, he said he is throwing more bullpen sessions than he has in the past.
"It's made me stronger," he said.
The Dodgers announced they will face the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 25 to raise money for victims of January's Tucson shooting. The game will be played at 1 p.m. at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. Tickets, from $6 to $20, can be bought at dodgers.com/spring. … KTNQ 1020 AM will be the new home of the Dodgers' Spanish radio broadcasts. The Dodgers and KTNQ signed a two-year agreement.