Loney looking forward to fresh start

LYNWOOD, Calif. – There’s a lot about 2011 James Loney either doesn’t remember or would like to forget.

The first half of last season was a struggle; the last two months were spent getting his batting average back to respectability. Then there was the bizarre freeway accident in November in which the Dodgers first baseman was suspected of driving under the influence. He was never charged, and toxicology tests came back negative.

It’s no surprise he would prefer to look ahead rather than relive the past.

“I’ve been around enough to know how things work and what’s news,” Loney said during a Dodgers community caravan that included spending time at a Habitat for Humanity project. “Anything is news as long as people know about it.”

Loney was certainly news. He’s still reluctant to discuss the accident, although he was cleared of any wrongdoing and said he essentially blacked out after his 2009 Maserati collided with several cars on the 101 Freeway in Sherman Oaks.

“I remember hitting my head,” he said. After that, he doesn’t recall much else until police appeared.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Loney sideswiped three cars, stopped his car in the fast lane and passed out. When he came to, he tried to drive away, but crashed again.

Loney said the initial accident was caused when a car pulled in front of him.

“I was trying to change lanes, and the car in front of me … I changed lanes and kind of barely hit the pole,” he said. “I hit my head right after that.

“Did I black out? I can’t remember (anything) after I hit my head.”

Loney’s primary concern now is building on the final two months of last season, when he hit .367 in August and .348 in September. That hot stretch came on the heels of a .176 July.

His RBI totals, however, dropped precipitously. He drove in just 65 runs last year after totaling 90, 90 and 88 in the previous three seasons.

Asked about his strong finish, Loney said, “I just felt like my timing was on. Early on, I was late a lot. I felt like there were times I made adjustments here and there during the season, but couldn’t get a consistent timing down. Toward the end, I really started to have that feel and know what it felt like.”

Although he signed a one-year deal for $6.375 million in January, the Dodgers had their sights set on free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. They offered the former Milwaukee Brewers star a seven-year contract worth $160 million, but Fielder eventually signed a nine-year deal with the Detroit Tigers for $214 million.

“I didn’t have a reaction,” Loney said of the Fielder talk. “Nobody really talked about it, the people I deal with. It is what it is. There’s something in the news every day.”

Even if he doesn’t acknowledge his future with the team was on the line, Loney surely must be aware this is his time to produce. He may not get many opportunities to bat against left-handed pitchers, and any prolonged slumps could put him on the bench in favor of Juan Rivera or Jerry Sands.

“I just feel like I’ve got to be myself,” he said. “That’s all they want me to be, be myself. They want me to be here for a long time, so that’s what I want to do.”