Don Mattingly admits that he's worried about James Loney.
There's plenty of reason to worry.
Loney went 0-for-3 again on Sunday, lowering his batting average to .150 (with two extra-base hits and six RBIs) through 16 games of the season.
Mattingly admits that if it weren't for Loney's second-half slide last year -- when he posted a slash line of .211/.285/.331 -- that a slow start wouldn't be as big of a deal. But Loney didn't look very good this spring, and he's borderline lost at the plate right now.
Loney is a hitter who frequently tinkers at the plate: with his hands, his feet, his setup and other components of hitting. He's done this throughout his career, in good times and in bad times, and it hasn't affected him.
But now, that constant tinkering isn't helping Loney get out of a slump, which is frustrating for the former hitting coach Mattingly and current hitting coach Jeff Pentland.
"The guys I've seen who are really successful over time are tinkering so small nobody knows it," Mattingly said. "It's really tiny. The problem with (constantly) tinkering is, all of a sudden, you're lost. You think, 'Where am I? I got away from everything I do.' Then you have to go back to square one."
Is Loney at that stage now?
"Well," Mattingly said, a long pause and sigh. "I don't know. I'm not saying he's lost. But he hasn't swung the bat the way I know he's capable."
The Dodgers want to be patient. They respect what Loney's accomplished since becoming their everyday first baseman midway through the 2007 season.
A spark is needed somewhere, and when the best-hitting prospect in the organization is crushing the ball at Class AAA, and can play first base or left field, it gets people talking.
Jerry Sands has a slash line of .400/.422/.875 through 10 games at Class AAA Albuquerque, along with five home runs and 17 RBIs.
Ideally, the Dodgers let Sands dominate at Class AAA for at least half a season. They want to see him slump a little, and see how he fights his way through adversity. But after managing Sands in the Arizona Fall League, Mattingly doesn't need much more convincing.
"(Sands has) got a different demeanor than most guys," he said. "He makes adjustments. His approach is solid. Again, we're talking about a guy in (Class AAA) now. A lot of things you like is his demeanor and personality and approach. Even if he struggles, it's not going to change his mind about what he thinks he can do."
How long the Dodgers wait for Loney to come around, and to bring Sands to the majors, is the top storyline right now for this team.
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