No one really thinks the Dodgers will win the NL West. Unless, of course, Jason Schmidt comes back as the guy who won 35 games in 2003-04 for the Giants. But even if he did, the Dodgers won?t until Andruw Jones stops striking out like as if he?s the reincarnation of Dave Kingman. I caught up with Jones and the Dodgers on a steamy Saturday afternoon in L.A., a day so hot that even Ernie Banks would?ve been hard-pressed to play two. Jones sat alone in the Dodgers' locker room, wearing the kind of insouciant grin that Dodgers fan don?t always find appropriate for a guy hitting .167 and making the much-maligned Juan Pierre seem popular by comparison. But smiling is in the Curacao-born Jones?s nature. If he was worried about a career that?s been in a serious tailspin since 2007, he did not show it. ?It?s not the way you start, it?s the way you finish,? Jones said. He should know, since he got off to an almost equally horrific start in his 51-home run season of 2005. For those who secretly wonder if that power-crazed season was the worst thing that could?ve happened to Jones, remember that he followed that up with 41 dingers (and 129 RBI) in 2006. Jones appeared to be at the top of his game. And then came the nightmare of ?07, the career low .222 average (a 40-point drop from ?06), the strikeouts with men on base, the whispers that he was damaged goods with a bad back, the Braves? decision to let him leave. Now, in his first year with a team other than the Atlanta Braves, Jones shrugged off the notion that he felt the additional burden of trying to justify the Dodgers? two-year, $36.2 million investment. ?There?s always pressure when you?ve been successful for so many years,? Jones said dismissively, but then he told how Manager Joe Torre had sought to comfort him by reminding him of his own struggles after being traded to St. Louis. Then Jones noted that it?s hard for people to understand the adjustment required in moving to a new city after so many years in a place he was familiar with. Torre has been patient; teammates have been supportive; the fans a little less so. Jones is not the demonstrative type; he has, instead, been one of those guys who never looks like he?s exerting much effort. He?s a Gold Glove centerfielder perfectly suited for the spacious contours of Dodger Stadium, but everyone knows he?s not here just to run down fly balls. One of the most productive hitters in a dominating Braves' lineup has become an automatic out in the Dodgers'. Where is the real Andruw Jones, and what has this seeming impersonator done with him? ?He?s just not comfortable up there," Torre said before the game. ?He won?t own up to it, but he?s trying to do too much. He wants to make sure we got a good deal.? It?s gotten to the point where Torre found signs of encouragement in the tiniest accomplishment. Like the single that Jones, a notorious pull hitter, slapped to right field on Friday night. ?Seems like he?s getting a better look at the ball,? Torre said hopefully. Jones, who left Friday?s game with a calf contusion, called Torre to say he wanted to play on Saturday, and Torre put him in the lineup. Watching Jones in batting practice, you?d never suspect there was a problem. The thwack of bat crushing ball echoed through the park as Jones sprayed balls around the outfield. Yet when the game started, Jones looked passive at the plate. Dropped to seventh in the order, he came up with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning against a struggling pitcher Mark Redman and worked out a 3-2 walk. Not quite the big hit everyone was hoping for, but it was an RBI, and at least Jones preserved what became a ten-run explosion. Jones walked his next time up, flied out in the fifth, and was pinch-hit for in the seventh. Sunday was no better, Jones going 0-4, striking out three times and dropping his average to an unthinkable .159. ?In September, no one remembers what you did in April,? Jones said bravely. At this rate, he can only hope that will be the case.
Andruw: In September, No One Remembers April