Are The Dodgers Giving Up on Loney?

The Dodgers have never been long on patience -- Russell Martin is a prime example -- and now it looks as if the string is starting to run out on first baseman James Loney. Pressured to include more power in his swing, as if 90 runs batted in each year was not enough, he has slipped from an important part of the Dodger's future to a platoon player.

Martin, 28, you will remember, felt he was snubbed by the Dodgers offer to re-sign after suffering an injury that cancelled out the last half of the 2010 season for him. The Yankees, always willing to take a chance and with a solid bankroll to back them up, signed him for less money than the Dodgers paid for Rod Barajas, 35, (.210-7-17 with a .249 OBP) to replace Martin (.238-9-27 and a .346 BP). Martin has thrown out 12 of 41 runners stealing (.296) and Barajas has nailed 7 of 39 (.179).

James Loney has enjoyed more success at Coors Field than any other ballpark. If ever he needed a trip there -- to get his swing, his season, and perhaps his career -- back on track, it's this weekend. Loney didn't start in two of three games against the Phillies, both against lefties. Casey Blake started at first base in both games.

While manager Don Mattingly said it wasn't a straight platoon at first base, he offered no assurances that Loney would be in future lineups against lefties. Mattingly is trying to find more offense anywhere he can.

"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."

Mattingly used Loney as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Phillies. Lefty starter Cole Hamels was still in the game, and Loney replaced leadoff hitter Dee Gordon representing the tying run.

Hamels fell behind 3-0, and then Loney swung at a pitch on the outer third of the plate, and hit a harmless flyball to left field for the second out of the inning. Reading the attitude of Mattingly in the dugout isn't easy, but he didn't seem too happy.

After a dreadful April, Loney bounced back with a more respectable .293/.350/.413 slash line in May. There wasn't the power you expect from a first baseman, but at least he was back to hitting for average and getting on base.

So far in June, Loney is 3-for-18, and all three hits are singles.

Before the game, Mattingly offered his strongest words yet that he's frustrated with Loney.

"You've got to continue proving yourself," Mattingly said. "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."

The biggest source of frustration for Dodgers decision-makers seems to be Loney constantly changing where he stands in the batter's box and other mechanical factors.

"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.

"I'm sure he's trying to be better than he's been. 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."

The problem for the Dodgers -- or what's buying more time for Loney, depending on your perspective -- is that rookie Jerry Sands is struggling once again. A recent 4-for-38 slump, since his grand slam on May 22, has dropped his slash line to .200/.294/.328 overall.

The Rockies have four right-handers starting this weekend. Sands has struggled worse against righties than lefties.

Again, it's time for Loney to re-establish his place in the lineup. If not, the Dodgers' starting first baseman will continue to be constantly rotating.

The kids are coming of age
As debuts go, Dee Gordon and Rubby De La Rosa showed the flash and dash Tuesday that made them untouchables in the Dodgers' minor league system the last two years.

Each started for the first time in the majors and played a large role in a weird 6-2 victory over the Phillies.

Gordon singled in his first three at-bats, utilizing his speed on the final one, scored a run, stole a base -- and was one of many teammates to give De La Rosa a pep talk during a rough start. De La Rosa was a wild mess, walking five of the first 11 batters he faced and allowing nine baserunners through three innings but somehow allowing only one run. He settled down, retiring the final six batters he faced and departed after five innings.

In future starts, or maybe it's future years, De La Rosa will no doubt be allowed to pitch deeper into games. But the Dodgers were cautious with Clayton Kershaw, and they're doing the same with De La Rosa.

His pitch count was 96 after five innings. His last outing of more than five innings was a season-high seven innings May 10 at Double-A Montgomery. Since then, he'd started twice in the minors and made three relief appearances in the majors.

De La Rosa is replacing Jon Garland in the starting rotation. Garland received an injection Tuesday, and there's no timetable for his return from the shoulder inflammation that put him on the disabled list last weekend.

Gordon made his major league debut Monday as a pinch runner and scored a run, the first time a Dodger has done that since Wilton Guerrero on Sept. 3, 1996.

Then Tuesday he singled three times off Roy Oswalt -- looping one to left field in the first inning, bouncing one through the hole into right field in the third, then hitting a high chopper that second baseman Chase Utley couldn't field and throw quickly enough for an out.

That speed is Gordon's best asset, and even his father -- former major league pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon -- was surprised by it.

"I had never seen him run until one day when he was 18 (years old) and he ran a 60-yard dash for the Phillies," said Tom, who flew from Florida to Philadelphia to watch his son's debut Monday. "I wasn't sure what I was looking at, then he ran against another kid who was supposed to be the fastest in the organization. Then I figured maybe he had some speed, and he just kept getting better."

In another sign of the Dodgers' youth movement, manager Don Mattingly used his veterans in relief first, then went to the new kids last.v Blake Hawksworth worked a clean sixth inning. Matt Guerrier faced three batters, getting two outs in the seventh. Scott Elbert allowed an inherited runner to score, on an Utley triple, before retiring four straight hitters. Javy Guerra worked a clean ninth to wrap it up.

NOTES, QUOTES
--RHP Hiroki Kuroda's great start turned quickly into a bad end. He retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced, striking out six batters. He then went triple, walk, wild pitch, wild, before a flyout got him out of the fifth inning. His sixth went strikeout, home run to Ryan Howard, double to Raul Ibanez, and that was the end of the line.

--RHP Matt Guerrier made his 33rd appearance Wednesday in the Dodgers' 63rd game, a pace of 85 games. Guerrier was known as a workhorse with the Twins, logging 73, 76, 79 and 74 appearances over the last four years. Guerrier allowed a run in the seventh, extending the Phillies' lead to 2-0.

--SS Dee Gordon was a trending topic on Twitter in Los Angeles during his first major league start Tuesday. Gordon singled three times, stole a base, and scored a run. In his second start Wednesday, Gordon went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth.

--INF Juan Uribe came up empty twice in the Dodgers' best scoring opportunities. In the seventh, after Andre Ethier doubled and Matt Kemp singled, Uribe swung at the first pitch and popped up to second base. In the ninth, after Kemp singled off closer Ryan Madson, Uribe bounced into a double play. Uribe is 3-for-12 since coming off the disabled list.

--INF Stefan Jarrin, the grandson of Dodgers Hall of Fame spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, was drafted in the 40th round by the Dodgers on the third day of the draft.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Home runs by Andre Ethier in his last 37 games. Ethier's lack of power was overshadowed during a 30-game hitting streak, but it's becoming more apparent now. Ethier doubled off lefty Cole Hamels in the seventh inning, his third double in his last 118 at-bats. His slugging percentage for the season is .464, which would be the lowest of his career since 2007 (.452).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't face them as much, so I think if I faced them 30 times like I face the Mets, the record would kind of be different. I've been able to capitalize so far." -- Phillies starter Cole Hamels, after throwing eight scoreless innings Wednesday against the Dodgers. He's never lost to the Dodgers, including two victories in the 2008 National League Championship Series that earned him Most Valuable Player honors.

QUOTE TO NOTE II: "I just prefer starting. I like the routine of starting. My body is better suited and my stuff as well. It's hard to develop a changeup as a reliever, and that's probably my favorite pitch. My body fits starting perfectly." -- Dodgers first-round pick Chris Reed, who is the closer for Stanford University. The Dodgers have indicated they like Reed as a starting pitcher, and that will be his role when he begins his pro career. He's being advised by agent Scott Boras.

*M*A*S*H* 4077 MEDICAL WATCH:
--SS Rafael Furcal (strained left oblique muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list June 4. --RHP Jon Garland (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 2.
--RHP Kenley Jansen is scheduled to make a rehab assignment Thursday for Double-A Chattanooga and probably at least one additional game as well. Sending him there, instead of a closer minor league affiliate, is a sign of how much confidence the Dodgers have in Double-A Chattanooga pitching coach Chuck Crim.
--LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, out with an anxiety disorder that is believed to be related to a case of the yips, has told the Dodgers he's ready to pitch in front of a crowd again. Kuo's first game will be Thursday at Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Since his rehab is more mental than physical, Kuo's rehab schedule is not on a regular timetable.
--RHP Vicente Padilla (right radial nerve irritation) went on the 15-day disabled list May 14. He began a rehab assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga on May 29 and but was not activated June 3, as had been expected.
--RHP Jonathan Broxton is getting closer to a rehab assignment. He threw a bullpen session Tuesday that had pitching coach Rick Honeycutt satisfied. Broxton will throw another bullpen session Thursday, then could either throw a simulated game or pitch in a few minor league games.
--C Hector Gimenez (sore right knee) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 9. He had arthroscopic surgery April 26, and was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 13.

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