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T.J. SIMERS

Coming to James Loney's rescue is latest reclamation project

Dodgers first baseman has been scuffling at the plate and only a certain columnist has the magic touch to get the young player turn things around.

May 17, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers first baseman James Loney chases after a foul ball during Monday's loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Loney has been struggling at the plate since last year's All-Star game.
Dodgers first baseman James Loney chases after a foul ball during Monday's… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

It's Tuesday night and I'm supposed to be sitting in Staples Center, the Lakers and Oklahoma City going at it in a playoff opener. But instead I'm talking to James Loney.

Life just isn't fair. The Dodgers are already eliminated, but they get to keep playing. By the way, would someone tap Loney on the shoulder and tell him the Dodgers still are playing.

I never watched the TV show, but "Lost" pretty much describes James Loney. So does "automatic out" or "first base flop." I'll take Steve Garvey no matter how old he is these days.

Loney is hitting .218 since last year's All-Star break, although he's quick to point out he led the major leagues in percentage of line drives hit. I guess that means he also led the majors in percentage of line drives caught.

A few years back, Loney arrived to a lot of fanfare as the Dodgers were bragging about their young players and refusing to trade any of them. Make Ned Colletti an offer now and he drives Loney to the airport.

Loney doesn't seem to have much bat speed, has no power at a power position and with everything wrong with the Dodgers, he's as good a scapegoat as anyone.

The Dodgers have a Big Two in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, but it should be the Big Three if only Loney lived up to expectations.

"It should be a Big Three and will be," said Loney, while indicating he's been tinkering with his batting stance. "And that's been my No. 1 problem."

He said he plays mind games with himself, his feet here, his hands there. Maybe if he were just more aggressive through his swing. Sometimes he's too tight, other times too loose. Something might work. He said maybe it wasn't the way he should've been doing it, but since he was successful it was no time to change.

I don't remember him being successful.

On a bright note, he couldn't be any more disappointing than the Lakers.

But at some point in his 115-game slide, you would think someone around here might have suggested he stop tinkering with his batting stance and just hit the blasted ball.

"Before you build a new house you've got to tear down the old one," he said. "And I was kind of building on top of the old one, if that makes any sense."

It doesn't, but that's Loney. He's a great guy, respectful, funny, smart and from another planet.

He's one of the Dodgers that most people really don't know, so hard to pin down in conversation as he dances away from almost every question or criticism.

He plays the game carefree like a child, as if his only hope of getting an extra-base hit these days is if he's allowed to hit off a tee.

I mentioned this when we chatted Saturday, telling him I was taking over his tutelage as I do so often with some of our crummier players in town.

I told him he's headed down the same trail Russell Martin followed out of town. Martin was eligible for arbitration a year ago but the Dodgers set him free because he went bust on them.

Loney will be eligible for arbitration at the end of this season. Still, he knows, "If I stay on the same pace, why would they bring me back?"

I suggested he might want to start hitting, something apparently hitting instructor Jeff Pentland didn't mention. Loney then went out and got two hits, including a double, his first since March 31, which happened to be opening day.

He doubled again Sunday, doubling his extra-base hits for the season in a span of two days under Page 2's guidance.

Should the day come when Page 2's canonization is considered, I believe this would count as a verifiable miracle.

We spoke again before Tuesday's game to determine whether Loney's mind was still right and he was no longer tinkering.

"I made a promise to myself I won't play mind games anymore," Loney said, while admitting that contrary to his placid demeanor, he genuinely hurts when he fails to hit as well as people might expect.

So what would he tell Dodgers fans that might be growing impatient with his failure to produce?

"Stay tuned, you're going to see something great," he said, leading off the second inning with a ground ball to second base, popping up to short in the fourth and getting a single in the sixth.

My work done, that's when I left.

THE DODGERS had Clayton Kershaw on the scoreboard talking about his favorite cities and what it's like to ride on the team plane. As he spoke, they ran the English translation to everything he was saying on the scoreboard right beside him.

He's from Texas, so you understand why it was necessary.

GOT A letter from Nan Wooden. I guess she doesn't think I know anything about email.

"Certain factions believe that special education schools and continuation schools are a waste of money," Nan wrote. I learned years ago to never argue with this woman. "Hopefully this event we're planning will point out how wrong they are and how important such schools are for challenged youngsters' education and most importantly their self-esteem."

Billed as Nell and John Wooden Friendship Olympics Day, June 3, the students from the Lull Special Education Center and John R. Wooden High have been working together for some time. They will compete in various athletic events beginning at 9:30 a.m. on the Lull Encino campus. The theme for the day, as John Wooden once said, "I am a success because I did my best."

By the way, the first anniversary of Wooden's death is June 4, at age 99 taken way too soon.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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