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Everything's clicking for Ibanez08/16/2007 3:04 PM ET
By Jim Street / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- Anyone unfamiliar with Raul Ibanez might think that the resurgence of his productive bat has something to do with the promotion of outfielder Adam Jones from the Minors. That would seem to be a reasonable assumption. After all, Ibanez had just finished an unusually tough stretch, batting .184 with no home runs and 12 RBIs in July, and there was a suspicion that Ibanez just wasn't the same player who was such an offensive force the previous three seasons with the Mariners -- 69 home runs and 274 RBIs. Meanwhile, Jones was tearing up the Pacific Coast League with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, hitting home runs, driving in runs and drawing the attention of Mariners fans everywhere. And so, when Jones was promoted and inserted into the starting lineup against the Red Sox at Safeco Field on Aug. 3 in left field -- Ibanez's regular position -- inquiring minds wanted to know if this was going to be a permanent move. Ibanez didn't give it a second thought. His focus was elsewhere. "No one brought that up to me, and it didn't even enter my mind," Ibanez said. "All of that stuff, [personnel decisions], is out of my control. I come in here every day and try to be the best version of myself that I can be. I prepare myself to be the best me that I can be on that day and keep going." Usually, that is pretty darn good. Though the personable Ibanez, who has 12 home runs and 73 RBIs, won't match the power numbers he accumulated last season -- 33 home runs and 123 RBIs -- his presence in the Mariners' lineup looms large as the team attempts to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Mariners begin a three-game series against the White Sox on Friday night at Safeco Field, trailing the Angels by just three games in the American League West, and they are in a three-way battle with the Yankees, Tigers and Indians in the AL Wild Card race. "He has the capability to carry us," manager John McLaren said. Ibanez did just that during the team's recent road trip to Baltimore and Chicago -- Aug. 7-12 -- going 13-for-27 with two doubles, five home runs and 11 RBIs -- numbers that earned him AL Player of the Week honors. Seattle won five of those six games. Ibanez produced 18 hits in his last 38 at-bats, smacked six home runs and drove in 13 runs in the past 10 games. So it seems only fitting that Friday night also happens to be "Raul Ibanez Bobblehead Night." The first 25,000 fans will receive a seven-inch figurine of Ibanez swinging a bat. "I wasn't even sure when it was," Ibanez said of his own bobblehead giveaway day. "I knew it was in August, sometime. I try not to put too much thought into things like that, but it's really cool." A "Raul Ibanez Bobblehead Night" anytime in July would not have been so cool. A sore right front shoulder that deprived him of power and a batting stroke that had developed some mechanical flaws tested Ibanez throughout July. As a deeply religious person, Ibanez relied on his faith, head trainer Rick Griffin's superb medical staff and patience from his manager and hitting coach to work his way out of his hitting funk. "I think the lack of home runs might have gotten to him," McLaren said. "We know he has power, and we also know why he wasn't hitting for power -- his shoulder. It wasn't something that kept him from playing, but Raul just wasn't himself. "He is such a professional and character guy, he never complained or used [his sore shoulder] as an excuse." What Ibanez did was get healthy, and he worked on his swing with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. After hours upon hours of hard work in the cage in virtually every stadium that had cages, things finally started to click near the end of July. The light switch came on when Ibanez shortened his front-foot stride, allowing him to stay back on the ball. "It makes him get the feel of the back side releasing," Pentland explained. "Before, it was collapsing, because his legs were outrunning his body. Now, with the shorter stride, it allows him to drive through the ball with his back side, almost like a golfer." But more than a tweak with his stance at the plate was the health of Ibanez's front shoulder. He finally reached the point where the strength of mind and muscle joined forces. "He had an injury out of Spring Training, and he didn't tell anybody," Pentland said. "There were a lot of things that weren't right [with his swing], but it was the result of a shoulder injury more than anything else. There was no sock, and that's not like Raul." The turning point came a few days before the Mariners left for their Baltimore-Chicago road trip, when it became apparent that hard work and perseverance were finally paying off for the 34-year-old. "The ball started coming off his bat much harder," Pentland said. "Before, when I'd flip it to him in the cage, it was like a marshmallow coming off his bat. His hips were sliding forward and his upper body was going back. It was just a mess." The mechanical change was working, and McLaren sensed that Ibanez was on the verge of breaking the slump. "I saw the swing that I had seen when he was going well," McLaren said. "He's such an intense competitor; he was really having a tough time," Pentland said. "We've been together for four years, and I've never seen Raul like this. To his credit, he never gave up." The "real" Ibanez is back, and the Mariners are seeing the impact. And it had far less to do with anyone moving into his neighborhood than you might have thought. "I know there was a lot of talk that with Adam Jones coming up, Raul would lose some playing time, that sort of stuff," utility infielder Willie Bloomquist said. "I kind of laughed at it. Anyone who knows anything about Raul knows he was going to get it back. "Raul is a real, real professional hitter, in the sense that he is a student of his swing and analyzes and knows what's going right and what's going wrong. When he's good, which is most of the time, he is one of the best hitters I have been around in a long time. He kind of reminds me of Edgar [Martinez], in that he is in touch with his swing and works so hard. "We knew it was just a matter of time before Raul got it back. No one works harder than him to fix a problem, and the cream always rises to the top." In this case, it just took quite a bit longer than anyone expected.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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