Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' James Loney possesses a quiet determination

ST. PETERSBURG

James Loney is different.

There have been other Rays who have been quiet, who have needed space and kept mostly to themselves, who took what kindly would be called a low-key approach on the field.

But Loney plays with such a sense of calm that manager Joe Maddon went deep into his vast vocabulary to compare him with the similarly stoic pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in terms of "brachycardia" — an unusually slow heartbeat.

Yet that seeming absence of passion should not be construed as a lack of intensity or competitiveness, Maddon said, because he has seen enough — some in public, more privately — to know a raging flame flickers.

"Trust me, there is," Maddon said. "It's a misconception to think that he is just this totally calm cat that has no fire. He's got it."

Also, a quiet (of course) determination to take advantage of the career resuscitation the Rays have given him, evidenced by a stunning six-week start that has him ranking among the majors' top hitters, going into Monday's off-day second overall at .376, with an equally impressive .988 on-base plus slugging percentage that ranked sixth in the American League.

"I don't think about it too much as far as validation or whatever, it's just something internally that I have that's like, 'I've done this for awhile,' which people don't realize sometimes," Loney said. "But it's fine. If you look at what I've done, disregard just last year, in the big leagues I've always hit over .280. So sometimes you've got to go through that."

Loney, 29, went through a lot last year, hitting just .249 with a .630 OPS in what essentially was a miserable 2012 split between the Dodgers (who gave up on him after 10½ years in the organization and traded him) and Red Sox (who didn't seem to want him as the return for the Carl Crawford/Adrian Gonzalez/Josh Beckett money dump).

Loney ended up on the free agent market as essentially damaged (or at least marked down) goods, and took a humbling pay cut (from $6.4 million to $2 million) and a cross-country move in signing with the Rays.

"I think that it's happened for a reason" Loney said. "I think it's great for me to be in this situation. This team, this organization, I'm glad it happened. I feel like the change was going to be good for me last year. I'm definitely blessed to be here and be in this situation.

"I just think the whole environment is better here. You have the right type of leaders here. You got the right type of guys. And you know, it's just a good atmosphere that we have."

The experience didn't start well, with Loney hitting .167 with a .498 OPS through his first 13 games. Then he decided it was time to go to the video, and spent hours one afternoon in Baltimore watching clips of past success in L.A.

"I was just trying to see that visual, how it looked, and I've just been repeating that," he said. "It puts you in a good position, and when you're up there you feel like, 'All right, there is where I want to be.' So, that's cool."

Technically, the difference is that he is ready to hit sooner, getting his front foot down quicker, allowing for better decision-making and a split second of additional reaction time.

Also elements to his success: he uses the whole field, has hit a higher percentage of line drives than anyone else in the majors, and doesn't play every day — the break from tough lefties maintaining his impressive numbers and, in Maddon's view, his confidence. Plus, he has shown flashes of what Maddon calls "severe" power that can translate to 10-15 homers.

Add in the Gold Glove-caliber defense Loney has always been known for, and thus far he has made quite an impact.

And if things were to work out just right this season, Loney promises there would be quite a show of emotion.

"My exciting time would be winning the World Series," he said. "That's when I would … we'd have some fun. It would be a good time."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].

*Rankings going into Monday

Source: Stats Inc, Fangraphs

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