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What if James Loney did go out for a lengthy period?

March 6, 2011 | 11:35 am

So the news was good on Sunday for James Loney, his left knee only swollen. No structural damage. He’s expected back by Wednesday.

But the mini-scare at least has to make the Dodgers more carefully consider their backup plan at first base should Loney actually go down for a lengthy period of time.

Don Mattingly’s solution for the last two days has been to start rookie Russ Mitchell at first, though Mitchell doesn’t figure to make the final 25-man roster.

Asked Sunday who would spell Loney during the regular season, Mattingly mentioned Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames or Casey Blake.

Unless Gibbons and/or Thames get off to a hellacious start, however, his current best long-term solution is probably Blake.

That works for a couple of reasons. Blake at first would mean moving Juan Uribe to third, which is his better defensive position, and starting Jamey Carroll at second.

Starting Carroll would allow him to bat second in the order, helping to better solve the No. 2-hole problem currently scheduled to be filled by Blake, who could move down the lineup where he’s a more natural fit.

The other more dreamy possibility is current phenom Jerry Sands, their minor league player of the year, who has been impressive in the early going this spring. Sands, however, split time last season between single A and double A, needs more experience and is currently ticketed to start the season at triple-A Albuquerque.

The other scenario with Loney is simply sitting him more frequently during the regular season, healthy or not. Loney struggled so miserably in the second half last season (batting .211 with a .616 OPS) that the Dodgers can’t afford to be overly patient with his return to form.

They would at least have to consider giving him some more regular time off against left-handers (.222, 575).

Mattingly, however, has said he prefers a set lineup and is already planning on platooning Gibbons and Thames in left.

There could be a decent amount of playing time being switched at catcher too, so Mattingly’s preference for a set lineup could begin to feel uncomfortable if Loney continues to struggle against left-handers.

-- Steve Dilbeck

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