VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) -James Loney thought he earned a spot with the Los Angeles Dodgers during spring training last year. He ended up starting the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.
He's got more job security this year but still isn't taking anything for granted.
``I try to come into every spring training trying to earn a spot, and that's how I still look at it,'' Loney said. ``In this game, you've got to be consistent and you've got to have that right approach.''
Loney hit a team-best .414 in 28 exhibition games last year, and was coming off a season in which he was honored as the organization's minor league player of the year.
The first baseman didn't hide his frustration with the decision to keep him in the minors but he wasn't there very long.
Loney was called up in June, moving Nomar Garciaparra to third base, and hit .331 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 96 games.
``I think everybody when they get in this environment they want to feel they belong,'' the 23-year-old Loney said. ``I think that's part of the confidence thing when you are out there playing this game. You've got to be confident.''
New manager Joe Torre likes to see that kind of confidence in his young players.
``The thing about these young kids is not only their ability, which is apparent, but they don't feel they don't belong here,'' he said. ``They are going to learn, they are going to get better, but these youngsters, the taste they've had here has made a difference in their demeanor and mentality.''
Torre said Loney's power and ability to drive in runs makes him a candidate for the third spot in the batting order.
``One thing about the third (spot), yeah, there's more responsibility, but there's more protection too,'' he said. ``We would probably have to follow him with an Andruw Jones, a (Jeff) Kent, and some of those guys. There are a lot of options, but it's important with a young player to try to put him in a situation where he can succeed.''
Loney enjoyed the aspect of having to prove himself last year, and it's something he plans to do again this season.
``It's good to feel you have something to prove, just to keep yourself honest,'' Loney said. ``It's a game of failure in some aspects, and it's how you deal with it and how you try to get better at your game.''

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