ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — James Loney is often a man of few words. He has become one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ most dependable infield gloves, and since an offensive outbreak in late April that has carried through most of the season, his hitting skill has become an asset for his team as well.
Just do not expect deep self-reflection about his personal achievements, such as when he was asked about extending his career-high hitting streak to 16 games Friday.
“Yeah, I think about it every day,” said Loney, his sarcasm obvious, after the Rays’ 8-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field.
The sustained success might not cross his mind, but Loney’s impact has been felt since he began this streak June 19 in a victory against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He passed his previous career-high hitting streak of 15 games, set from March 31-April 16, 2008, when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
On Friday, Loney smacked a single to right field off right-hander Dylan Axelrod in the first inning to extend the streak, part of his 2-for-4 showing with one RBI that raised his batting average to a team-high .320. The moment was another example of what the first baseman gives the Rays: A versatile hitter who is capable of working all areas of the field to produce, to give Tampa Bay another threat.
“There’s a lot of bounce in his step, even though he has played a lot,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “You see it. He’s using the whole field. … For the most part, balls are being sprayed all over the place, and that’s when he’s really good.”
Lately, Loney has been consistently good. The 16-game hitting streak is tied for the longest by a Rays player this season, matching Evan Longoria’s run from May 6-22.
Perhaps most impressively, the streak started after a season-long, six-game dry spell. Before starting this run, Loney went 0 for 20. His average has risen from .296 to its current mark, and as long as he continues to do what works for him, there is reason to think more productive nights will happen time and time again.
“I’ve felt fine all year,” Loney said. “I’m just getting some hits, I guess. … It’s a fun thing. It’s one of those things people pay attention to. It’s a fun time.”
How long can the fun last? It is hard to see Loney slowing soon, especially against vulnerable pitching ahead as the Rays work toward the All-Star break against teams with records below .500. He has had seven multiple-hit games in the streak, including three contests with three hits each.
Sometimes, few words are necessary to describe comfort, to describe a roll that adds depth to his value. Yes, the equation can be simple: See the ball, track it and feel comfortable swinging away.
“He sees the ball and hits the ball, and he finds his spots,” Rays catcher Jose Molina said. “He’s being aggressive, and he’s just putting a good swing on it.”
That has been easy to see in the past two weeks. He offers action more than explanation.