By Evan Brunell
The Dodgers appear resigned to benching James Loney against left-handers, according to MLB.com. Loney's promising play in 2006 and '07 have given way to dispiriting performances at first base. He has a .241/.292/.310 line so far in 2011, and the Dodgers are getting frustrated.
Loney's .173/.228/.192 line against left-handers bears out a pathetic .188 wOBA (Fangraphs' version of OPS, scaled to OBP) which is seventh-worst in all of baseball. Despite that futility, manager Don Mattingly isn't willing to bench Loney completely against left handers.
"I can't say it's a straight platoon, but we're trying to find more offense," Mattingly said. "James kind of hasn't thumped lefties and we've got to find extra runs here and there."On Wednesday against Cole Hamels, usual third-baseman Casey Blake shifted to first base with Juan Uribe manning third, freeing up second base for the hot Jamey Carroll. When Loney starts against lefties, Blake will likely return to third with Uribe and Carroll sharing time at second.
Loney's benching against lefties hides a bigger issue: his constant tinkering with his batting stance that could be harming his numbers as he hurtles his way toward a likely non-tender in the offseason. Already making $4.875 million on the year, Loney isn't worth that salary currently and won't be worth the raise he would be sure to get in his final year of arbitration unless he can find a way to get going offensively. That won't happen as long as Loney won't allow himself to settle into a stance.
"He's rolling and the next day it's like, Uncle Harry got to him overnight and he's got a different stance," said Mattingly. "Sometimes it changes from at-bat to at-bat. To be consistent, you stay with your base. But if it's not working, you can't expect to change [results] without changes."
Mattingly added that sometimes Loney's explanations for changing his batting stance don't make sense, but Loney comes from a good place in his reasoning.
"I'm sure he's trying to be better than he's been," Mattingly said. "You always try to get better. Sometimes you're an inch away and you make a foot-long change. That's what scares you. I'm talking from experience."
So when will Loney go back to starting full-time against lefties?
"I hate to say what I'm going to do when I don't really know," Mattingly said. "There's nothing wrong with a little competition. We've got to find a way to put up more runs. I think James is a confident kid and it's not a matter of me not believing in him. But there's never anything wrong with competition. You've got to continue proving yourself. There's always somebody coming. Put up the numbers. You've got to perform. There really are no free rides. You know it's there with James, you've seen it. But it's not about yesterday, it's about today."
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