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The return of James Loney, hitting .307, to Dodger Stadium

August 09, 2013|By Steve Dilbeck
  • Rays first baseman James Loney connects for a three-run home run in the seventh inning of a game against the Yankees in New York last month.
Rays first baseman James Loney connects for a three-run home run in the seventh… (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images )

James Loney, scourge of sabermetric lovers everywhere, was back where it all began for him Friday,  in Dodger Stadium.

And maybe he wasn’t getting a last laugh, but he certainly had to be allowed a certain satisfaction.

After the Dodgers traded him to the Red Sox last season, Boston did not pursue him as a free agent. He was momentarily adrift, and some wondered if any team would be all that interested in a first baseman coming off a season in which he had hit a career-low .249 with six home runs and 41 runs batted in.

Loney, 29, said he was never too concerned.

“I always tried to look at it as a track record,” he said. “My career average (.285) is a lot better than some people might think. I’m kinda sneaky, I guess. But I’m here.”

Here would be the starting first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays (66-47), where even after a recent slump (2 for 22) he is seventh in the American League in hitting (.307). He has 10 homers and 51 RBIs.

The 51 RBIs would be second on the Dodgers and his 10 home runs fourth. Yet Loney said he feels no particular sense of redemption.

“I’ve always believed in myself,” Loney said. “There are times I feel like I can do certain things other people can’t, as far as being in the batter’s box. I always take that confidence with me. I’ve felt that since I can remember. I was made to do this. And I work hard to keep doing this.”

The Rays weren’t so sold on him that they signed him to an exorbitant, multiyear contract. Tampa signed Loney for one year at $2 million; the previous season he'd had a $6.4-million contract with the Dodgers.

Now he appears to have been a tremendous bargain. The left-handed-hitting Loney is batting .318 against left-handed pitching, compared with a .248 career average against southpaws.

Loney said his lack of power for a first baseman was never an issue with the Dodgers, same as in Tampa.

“They never said anything to me about power or anything,” Loney said. “A lot of times people just make up stuff. When one thing is written, certain people believe it. You have to go to the source sometimes. And there you go, you came to the source.

“If you look around the game now, guys that were hitting all those home runs ain’t hitting home runs. I think the game is kinda going back to probably what it was intended for. Just getting those hits.”

Loney said when people ask how he’s turned things around in Tampa, he says the Rays have simply allowed him to be himself, to relax and play. Which is slightly different than what he experienced with the Dodgers.

“There were times over there when I would struggle for a little bit and wouldn’t get to play for awhile, stuff like that,” he said. “It is what it is. It happens other places.

“If that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be in the great position I’m in probably. It would not have worked out like that. We weren’t really winning too much when I was there last year. It’s good to be on a winning team.”

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