- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman James Loney slammed his first home run of the spring, a three-run blast far over the right-field wall in Friday's Cactus League game, a 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers before 11,082 at Camelback Ranch. The shot came off Rangers right-hander Greg Reynolds.
Loney, long considered a potential Gold Glove player at first, also made a spectacular defensive play in the fourth inning to rob David Murphy of a hit.
It is Loney's offense, though, that will be the key to his season, and possibly to the Dodgers' season as well. So far this spring, he is batting .357 (5-for-14), which he says is the result of finally honing in on one hitting style and sticking with it after years of constant tinkering with his stance and his mechanics.
It was something he began about midway through last season, keying a second-half revival in which he hit .320 with eight homers, 34 RBIs and a .380 on-base percentage after the break.
"I think I really just had an understanding of what I was doing as far as knowing what works for me and sticking to that and not swinging back and forth between different types of approaches," Loney said. "The confidence factor is there. That is one thing no one can take away is your confidence."
Loney, the Dodgers' first-round draft pick in 2002 who is entering his seventh season in the majors, was playing for the first time in five days because he had been battling soreness in one of his calves, but that has subsided. He said this is the best he has ever felt at the plate in spring training.
"There have been times when I felt good," he said. "But now, I actually have a concept of what I want to be doing ... in the box. I know what to do. I know how to go about it."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says he is relieved to see Loney sticking with a consistent approach at the plate.
"That is what I like," he said. "I told him spring training is really a time when guys are searching for that feel. James sat out a couple of days and came back, and everything was exactly the same. I think that kind of made him feel good. I think he looks good right now. He is confident. I think it's going to be an interesting year for him.''
Dodgers lefty Ted Lilly, who pitched four shutout innings and held the Rangers to one hit without a walk in his third start of the spring, said he was hoping to do a better job this season of controlling the running game after teams ran virtually at will against him last year.
Still, he knows there is no guarantee he will be better at it, and he doesn't want to become so focused on holding the runner close that he loses focus on pitching to the batter.
"I think it's just finding that right timing," Lilly said. "I don't want to be too quick (to the plate). I don't want to risk grooving a pitch to a (power hitter). Last year, it wasn't very much of a gamble for teams to run on me. What may happen is the game might get slow with guys on first. I may have to slow it down, and that certainly isn't fun to watch any pitching keep picking over, but I might have to do that."
Mattingly said it became such a problem last year that even first-base coach Davey Lopes talked with Lilly about what runners might be keying on in his delivery.
Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen, who only within the past couple of years converting from catching to pitching, said Friday was the first time he had ever given up two home runs in an inning. The Rangers' Brandon Snyder and Alberto Gonzalez took Jansen deep in the fifth, his lone inning of work in the game.
Other than that, though, Jansen says he likes where he is after three appearances this spring, each of them one inning.
"The main thing I'm really worrying about right now is how my control is,'' said Jansen, who hasn't issued a walk this spring. "I just don't want to walk people or put people on base. I just want to try to stay down in the zone and not fall behind in the count."
The Dodgers (8-3-2) play a split-squad doubleheader on Saturday, with Nathan Eovaldi starting the afternoon game against the Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale and Aaron Harang getting the ball for the nightcap against the San Francisco Giants at Camelback Ranch.
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