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Could threat of Jerry Sands spark James Loney?

April 19, 2011 |  7:03 am

Photo: Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Jerry Sands (47) follows through on a sacrifice fly in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium April 18, 2011. The Dodgers defeated the Braves 4-2. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire
And now for Jerry Sands next trick -- adding two productive bats to the lineup?

The Dodgers hope the rookie with only 299 at-bats above the Class A level gives them a run-producing bat in left field … and just maybe first base. At the same time.

This sleight of hand is accomplished by Sands delivering not only in left, but also his presence lighting something of a spark under struggling first baseman James Loney.

It seemed to work Monday night in Sands’ major-league debut. The 23-year-old doubled in his first at-bat and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly with his second.

And Loney, mired in an 0-for-12 drought that had dropped his average to .150, collected a pair of hits and drove in two runs.

Sands also can play first base, a position Loney has manned pretty much unchallenged for the last four years. Trouble is, he has not manned it well offensively for awhile. After the All-Star break last season, Loney batted just .211.

Since Loney hit only .222 against lefties last year and Sands bats right-handed -- and since both Manager Don Mattingly and General Manager Ned Colletti made a point Monday of saying Sands could also get time at first -- there remains the possibility of Sands playing some at first base, particularly when outfielders Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons are healthy.

Like a little competitive edge would hurt Loney?

"We just want as many guys in there having as good at-bats as we can," Mattingly said. "I think competition is a good thing. Guys that are comfortable … I shouldn’t answer it like that, because James is a guy who works. But there’s nothing wrong with competition.

"When I was playing first, I was kind of wrestling with [Steve] Balboni to get at-bats, then J.T. Snow comes along, Hal Morris comes along, Kevin Maas comes along. You gotta keep fighting for your spot. Nothing is a given. You have to keep working.

"I don’t want to say it in a category where James hasn’t done any of those things, because he has. But there’s nothing wrong with competition.’’

If Loney doesn’t turn it around and Sands proves productive, it’s easy to see the rookie playing at first against left-handers. The better scenario, particularly long term, is Sands delivers in left and Loney at first.

A two-for-one spark.

-- Steve Dilbeck