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Jones picks fitting stage to reclaim power stroke

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Left for done – bloated, limping, stealing-money, dead-bat done – several months ago and 30 miles from here, Andruw Jones(notes) hit three home runs Wednesday night for the Texas Rangers, or as the Los Angeles Dodgers might frame that, Exactly what we got out of him for $36.2 million.

A season after he ate himself into one of the great free-agent busts of all time and then asked for and was granted his release from the disgusted Dodgers, Jones continued to remake himself away from the large-market glare and under the watch of hitting guru Rudy Jaramillo.

In 75 games for the Dodgers, Jones batted .158, hit three home runs and was booed sooner, longer and louder at Dodger Stadium than any player ever. Now slimmer and recovered from knee surgery, now under contract for $500,000 (plus plate-appearance bonuses and all that the Dodgers still owe him), and still just 32, Jones hit home runs Nos. 12, 13 and 14 in his first three at-bats against the Angels.

As the designated hitter and batting cleanup in a lineup that scored 20 runs in three games here, Jones hit fastballs for all three, the first two from starter Ervin Santana(notes) and the third from rookie right-hander Rich Thompson(notes).

Given two shots to become the 16th player to hit four home runs in a big league game and the first since Carlos Delgado(notes) almost six years ago, Jones popped out in the sixth inning and struck out on a slider off the plate in the ninth, or as the Dodgers might frame that, The pitch he struck out on 76 times in 209 at-bats for $36.2 million.

He did know four was out there.

“I was thinking about it,” he said. “I tried.”

So Jones, who could make himself an extra couple hundred grand if he is the American League's comeback player of the year, played himself into the middle of a series in which the Rangers won twice and left town one game in front of the Angels and in first place in the AL West. He hit a three-run homer off John Lackey(notes) in the series' second game, meaning he drove in seven runs in two games, yes, half what he did in that dreadful season for the Dodgers.

Reminded of all that heartache and humiliation just up the freeway, back when a thriving Jonestown might never have given rise to Mannywood, Jones shook his head and insisted a good game or two in the region meant nothing to him.

“Not at all,” he said. “It's just another game. Last year, it was just one bad thing. Things didn't go the way everybody wanted it to.”

Ultimately, he added of the 2008 washout, “It was one bad year with injuries, not doing the right thing. All these years I've been playing weren't a fluke.”

Just as Jaramillo remade/redirected the likes of Sammy Sosa(notes) and Milton Bradley(notes) in past seasons for the Rangers, he's reconstructed Jones, who still isn't much in the way of batting average, but has his slugging and on-base percentages above career norms and is striking out less.

Manager Ron Washington's early plan was to use Jones against lefties, but Jones has been about equally effective against right-handers, and when he connected for the pivotal home run against Lackey the night before, he earned himself a start against Santana.

Santana started him with a fastball over the middle of the plate, which was a poor choice. He threw a similar fastball late in Jones' next at-bat, and that, too, Jones turned into a long, loud home run. Thompson, apparently unimpressed, went with the straight fastball a couple innings later.

“He seemed to be comfortable,” Washington said. “I know for the past four days he hasn't been missing his pitches.”

Granted, Washington said, a man reaches a certain age, endures a certain kind of season, becomes a certain kind of emotional wreck, and people begin to assume the worst.

“For the thousand that doubted him,” he said, “there are a thousand who believed he could do it.”

And so the Rangers and Jaramillo kept putting the bat in Jones' hands, kept finding places for him. He remains a guy for whom Washington seeks promising situations. It does not appear he will hit seven days a week, or even four. He batted .344 in April, then .245 in May. And if that wasn't alarming enough, .170 in June. He might never be Andruw Jones, the Andruw Jones who hit 368 homers in 12 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, again. As he himself said, “I was younger then.”

But, hey, on a night when the Angels were really, really hoping to get something out of Santana, and to win a series, it was the Rangers who got something out of Jones, three somethings actually, and the Rangers who won a series.

“It's just good to go out there and perform,” Jones said.

Or as the Dodgers might frame it, Sigh.