Dodgers’ James Loney steps up in battle for starting role

PHILADELPHIA — James Loney knows that his season, and possibly his career, is at a crossroads. Again.

“It’s my seventh year and it seems like I always have to figure it out,” Loney said.

With Juan Rivera back from the disabled list and capable of playing first base, Loney has been reduced to part-time status.

Loney has started only four of the Dodgers’ last eight games. He is batting .257 with two home runs and 18 runs batted in.

At this point in his disappointing 2011 season, he was hitting .241 with three home runs and 19 RBIs.

“It puts us in a little bit of a bind,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s not necessarily power, it’s just production, as far as driving in some runs.”

Loney thinks that enduring periods like these will benefit him.

“You go through something, you can get to somewhere really great,” he said. “It molds your character, it molds everything. I think it makes you better in the long run.”

The last two days offered hope that better days could be ahead.

Loney started each of the Dodgers’ last two games, including their 8-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, and was a combined four for nine with two RBIs and two runs scored.

But two games won’t make him an everyday player again.

“James is going to have to keep fighting for his time,” Mattingly said.

Days off

All-Star outfielder Andre Ethier and catcher A.J. Ellis were both out of the lineup.

Ethier was hitless in the Dodgers’ previous four games.

“I just wanted to give him a calm-down day,” Mattingly said. “He’s been grinding it out pretty good for us, and I just don’t want to kill him.”

Ethier will get additional rest in Seattle, where Mattingly plans to use him as a designated hitter for one game in the upcoming three-game series against the Mariners.

But Ethier ended his 0-for-17 skid before leaving Philadelphia; he drove in two runs with a pinch-hit double in the ninth inning.

Ellis was held out because of a bruised left shin. He was hit by a pitch there on Monday.

Ellis is expected back in the lineup on Friday.

Ethier’s future

Although General Manager Ned Colletti has said he would like to sign Ethier this season to a contract extension, President Stan Kasten had, until Thursday, remained mum on the subject.

In an online chat with fans, Kasten wrote, “We’re all big fans of Andre here. He’s very important to us. I expect him to be here for a very long time.”

Ethier will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

Lasorda released

Tom Lasorda, who suffered a mild heart attack Monday, was released from New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Lasorda will remain in New York for a couple of days before returning home to Los Angeles.

The Hall of Fame manager was in New York to represent the Dodgers at Major League Baseball’s annual amateur draft.

Front-office addition

Longtime baseball executive Bob Wolfe was named the Dodgers’ executive vice president. Wolfe worked alongside Kasten with the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals, and also with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.