Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has seen this before with James Loney. He’s seen it far too often over the years to get overly angry or overly excited with every single Loney at-bat.
Perhaps the only the thing frustrating for Mattingly at this point is answering the same questions about Loney every year.
“He got a couple hits tonight and we’ll leave it there,” Mattingly said after Loney had two hits and scored a run in Monday’s 8-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I’ve been through this the last four years with James, so we’ll see where it rolls.”
After going hitless in his previous 28 at-bats, Loney had an understandable smile on his face Sunday night after recording a hit and two RBI in the Dodgers’ 8-3 win over the New York Mets. He felt good enough to tell a skeptical Mattingly he had turned the corner.
“He came into my office and he felt like he’s got it, so we’ll see,” Mattingly said. “He feels good, so we’ll see. He’s confident.”
Loney’s confidence showed early in Monday night’s game as he singled on a line drive to center field to lead off the second inning and slid home and scored on a sacrifice fly by Luis Cruz. Loney then singled a ground ball to shortstop Wilson Valdez to lead off the seventh inning.
Before the game, when Mattingly was asked what kind of adjustments Loney needed to make, he deadpanned, “Better ones.”
As much as Mattingly would like to see Loney develop into the talented player he first saw when he came to the team, he said, “James has really been kind of an enigma.”
It looked as if the Dodgers were ready to move on from Loney as they aggressively pursued Houston Astros first baseman Carlos Lee. But when that trade died over the weekend, Loney once again became their man; he has responded by going 3 for 4 in his last four at-bats, with one run and one RBI.
Although Loney had heard rumors of a possible deal for Lee, he said they didn’t play a role in his recent play. “There’s just so much out there that you can’t control,” Loney said. “I’d rather occupy myself doing fun things and not focusing on that.”
It’s probably too soon to label Loney’s last two games a turnaround, but there’s no question that’s how he views it and how he feels now after surviving a dreadful stretch that almost got him run out of town.
“I think I was just trying too hard the last few weeks,” Loney said. “I think it compounded it by getting out of myself a little bit. I feel good now with a nice approach, and I’m ready to hit.”
Loney, who has been prone to slow starts and strong finishes, said these last two games feel like the start of something big. Given the Dodgers’ struggles at the plate, the timing couldn’t be any better.
“For me, I think it’s just one thing and that puts everything in place,” Loney said. “You just have this feeling like you’re in control and you’re up there feeling like you’re capable of great things. I feel that way right now. I was feeling that at the end of last year.
“Sometimes you get out of yourself trying too hard and you got to come back down and calm down a little bit, and I think I’ve finally done that.”