|Jones struggles in 1st season with Dodgers|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 12 May 2008 10:22|
He won't slam his bat to the ground after a rally-killing strikeout or thrust his fist in the air after a game-winning homer.
This year, there have been way more strikeouts (38) than home runs (one) for Jones. But don't be fooled by his demeanor. This hurts.
``People think I'm relaxed and laid back. It's eating me up inside,'' Jones said, the sadness evident in his eyes. ``I'm upset. I'm embarrassed.''
What about that little smile he seems to wear after a strikeout?
``That's the way my face is,'' he said. ``That's me. I can't change that. And I'm not going to break stuff because I strike out. It's not the bat's fault; it's not the helmet's fault. I'm doing whatever I can to help the team win, even if I'm not hitting. I know I'm better than this.''
The 31-year-old Jones was certainly a lot better during an exceptional 11-plus years in Atlanta, where he hit 368 homers, drove in 1,117 runs and won 10 Gold Gloves in center field.
Jones, one of only a handful of major leaguers to come from Curacao, made a name for himself at age 19 in the 1996 World Series against Joe Torre's New York Yankees, hitting .400 with two homers and six RBIs.
That was just the beginning. Now, with a .170 average, Jones isn't even close to hitting his weight, which just so happens to have become an issue in his dreadful start with the Dodgers.
``It has nothing to do with it,'' insisted Jones, listed at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds. ``Everybody can say, 'He's fat, he's this, he's that.' I feel great. I go out there; I can run the ball down. I feel fine.
``I work hard - that's all I can do. It's not like I haven't played this game before. This is the worst start I've ever had, and I've had awful starts. All you can do is keep working. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.''
Looking for a middle-of-the-lineup power hitter and outfield defense, the Dodgers thought they got both when they signed Jones to a two-year, $36.2 million contract last winter.
They haven't gotten any bang for their buck - at least not yet. But as Braves manager Bobby Cox said, it's early.
``There's quite a few really good hitters in baseball hitting below .200,'' said Cox, who managed Jones throughout his career in Atlanta. ``There's six months to play, not just 30 days.''
Torre, in his first year as the Dodgers' manager, said he's not about to give up on him. Jones hit .263 with 51 homers and 128 RBIs in 2005 and .262 with 41 homers and 129 RBIs in 2006 before fading to .222 with 26 homers and 94 RBIs last season.
``I'm staying with him because I just don't believe he can't hit anymore,'' Torre said. ``I know how important he has to be for us to do well, so we need to get him started. He's not going to get started sitting on the bench, not that I'm not going to sit him from time to time.''
Jones sat Sunday before entering as a pinch runner in the seventh inning during an 8-5 loss to Houston. He hit a sacrifice fly in his only at-bat, giving him five RBIs this year.
Torre believes Jones has had a tough time adjusting to his exit from Atlanta.
``This is the first time he's left the nest,'' the manager said. ``He's been with an organization his whole life. He ventures out; he doesn't do very well.''
While insisting he wasn't making excuses, Jones acknowledged his cross-country move has been difficult.
``It's tough when you live in your own house, in your own bed for so many years,'' said Jones, who has kept him home in the Atlanta area. ``It's been a tough change. My family's not here. You walk into a house you don't normally walk into. Some people take a long time to adjust.''
But, Jones said, he has no regrets about playing with the Dodgers.
``No, not at all,'' he said. ``It's a great organization. We have a great team. I want to be here. We can do something special.''
Torre did acknowledged Jones could have come to spring training in better shape.
``I'm not saying he's not overweight. But it certainly doesn't help when you're trying to make a case for yourself,'' the manager said. ``If the weight's going to be an issue, it's going to be in July or August before that's a problem. To me, it's that old theory of carrying those sandbags on your back. The longer you carry them, the more effect it's going to have and I think that it's too early to make that evaluation.''
Hitting coach Mike Easler said Jones has done everything asked of him.
``It's a very tough thing that he's going through,'' Easler said. ``He's working as hard as he possibly can. Sometimes, there's overkill. It comes down to seeing the ball, hitting the ball. He's in a funk.''
Torre agreed, saying he believes Jones is pressing and thinking too much at the plate.
``He's not going to admit it, but human nature tells you he's pressing because he cares very much,'' Torre said. ``It's not something where he's sitting back saying, 'Well, I got a contract, I don't need this stuff.' Nothing's further from the truth. He's trying to find it.''
Jones said he's never heard such negative crowd reaction.
``Not at home,'' he said. ``It's tough to deal with. If you're not doing well, the fans are going to boo you.''
In his first at-bat Saturday night, Jones struck out on three pitches against Houston's Chris Sampson. The boos at Dodger Stadium became louder with each swing and miss.
Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny said he wishes that would stop.
``I've never played with a nicer guy,'' Penny said. ``Every Dodger fan should be cheering for him to come out of this. If he goes, we go. I know how good he is. Defensively, he's incredible, even through all this. He's saved my butt a few times. His main goal is to help this ballclub win. We're good right now. When he starts hitting, we'll be great.''
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.