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Loney quietly here to help Rays

Published:   |   Updated: April 6, 2013 at 11:11 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

After the Rays won their first game of the season on Matt Joyce's walk-off home run, there was the typical raucous Rays frat house celebration: music, dancing, shouting, human sacrifice. OK, no dancing.

Anyhow, Rays manager Joe Maddon was interested to see how one new Ray rolled with it. One of Maddon's coaches later reported on the activities of mellow, soft-spoken first baseman James Loney, whose goal often seems to be blending into a scene rather than making one.

“It was pretty typical,” Maddon said. “(James) sat there and watched. He eventually got up, picked up his phone and recorded it and continued to take his time before he finally got involved.”

Informed that he'd been under surveillance, James Loney smiled.

“Loney watching?”

In his world, attention is overrated. So, apparently, are home runs. And so is talking.

“That's definitely overrated,” Loney said with a laugh.

“Sometimes, the way I act can probably be misinterpreted, maybe not caring, aloof. But I care. I've played this game my whole life. I care so much about not giving anything away, not giving at-bats away, not giving anything in the field away, base running, defense, always try to make it tough on the other team.”

There were Loney watchers back when scouts saw one of the best pure hitters in the 2002 draft. There were Loney watchers in Los Angeles when he played for the Dodgers and where he never quite lived up to expectations. What happened to the .331 average and 15 homers in 2007, or the guy with three seasons of 88 RBIs or more?

There were fewer Loney watchers as he was traded to the Red Sox in the deal that sent Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett to L.A. Loney wasn't a prize in the trade. His numbers were in steep decline, as 2012 was his worst season: .249 with just six homers and 41 RBIs.

At 28, he's trying to kick start his career after signing as a free agent, a typical Rays used-car story, $2 million for one season, a potential undervalued asset, great with the glove and at contact hitting, if not power.

Anything seems better than Carlos Peņa's septic 2012, a .187 average, 182 strikeouts, plus 213,000 trips to the mound. The Rays crave another quiet surprise, like Casey Kotchman, who in 2011 hit .306. By the way, don't expect Loney to go to the mound as much as chatty Carlos.

“Even if he did, there would be less being said, I'm sure,” Maddon said.

There were times during spring training when you didn't even know Loney was there, though he's reportedly more talkative in the clubhouse than Kotchman, whom the Rays considered wiring for sound. Loney simply goes about his business (he has never been on the disabled list in the majors).

When it comes to fielding, Loney reminds us of Peņa when he was completely on his game at first. There's never any panic. As for his bat, the Rays' Loney math is simple. The guy is a .282 career hitter. As bad as he was last season, Loney still hit 60 points higher than Peņa with 131 fewer strikeouts. The idea is Loney's ball striking might make up for his lack of punch, never mind that at 6-3, 220, he forever looks like he should hit 20 homers by accident.

“I've always just hit the ball everywhere, just sprayed it around,” he said.

“If you manage expectations with this guy, you're going to really like him,” Maddon said. “If you're expecting too much out of him, then he's always going to fall short. If you really try to look at him and try to understand him and how he plays, you're going to be really pleased. I mean, he's not going to hit 25 home runs, but he's going to hit 10 to 15. Runners in scoring position with two outs, he's not going to punch out, the ball is going to be moved.”

Loney might be the very last guy you'll catch watching himself, or anyone else, on ESPN. He enjoys music. He has played saxophone and some keyboard. He's a pushover for children, a two-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee for his community work involving kids while with the Dodgers.

The kid in James Loney loved that celebration the other day. It goes with his new team.

“It's a special group here. You've got a real mix; everybody accepts everybody. There are no real egos. No one is really looking for the spotlight,” he said.

Someone mentioned David Price, the Rays' engaging Cy Young winner. Has Loney wondered what it would be like to be that outgoing, that on, just once. He laughed.

“If everybody was the same, how boring would that be?”

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