First baseman James Loney had two hits this afternoon, including a solo home run in the eighth inning, as his Rays went on to defeat the Padres in the series finale 4-2. Loney entered the day as one of the best hitters in the American League with a .371/.426/.533 line, a welcome sight for the Rays who picked him up on a one-year, $2 million deal back in December.
After breaking out in 2006 and ’07 with the Dodgers, posting an aggregate .915 OPS in 486 plate appearances, Loney endured hardships as he failed to live up to expectations. From 2008-12, he slugged under .400 with an OPS under the league average. The Dodgers rid themselves of him in the mega-deal that brought Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to Chavez Ravine.
So what’s gotten into Loney? He’s hitting for more power than he has in the last five years despite the meager three home runs and is walking nearly as much as he is striking out (10 to 12 in 120 PA), something he hasn’t done since 2009.
At the end of April, Tommy Rancel of ESPN’s Rays blog The Process Report noted that Loney has added a leg kick which was certainly evident in his home run this afternoon, and that may be the mechanical explanation for his success. The pitches Loney used to roll over for weak grounders are now being hit with authority for line drives and deep fly balls. Not a bad bargain bin grab for the Rays, who seem to make a habit out of this.