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EATING RAUL

Posted By Christopher Rowe On May 6 2011 @ 5:15 pm In Philadelphia,Philadelphia Phillies | 2 Comments

[1]

0 for 35

For those who declared Raul Ibanez and/or his career as an everyday major league ballplayer “dead” at the age of 39, guess again. No one would have blamed you when Ibanez was mired in an 0-for-35 slump sporting a sub-Mendoza average with some positively paltry offensive numbers. Was Ibanez simply losing it or was there a nagging injury that he hadn’t told anyone?

[2] [3]This is a man who has spent his career as a professional hitter, carrying a .282 BA over 16 ML seasons and looming around 22 HR and 94 RBI – actually improving his career averages in his 30s as he grew older and lost bat speed. This man does not simply forget how to hit or lose his nerve 22 games into his 39th year on the planet.

[4]Hitting a pitched baseball is one of the 10 most difficult skills to learn but once you do, it is a series of adjustments over the course of time [5]which define successful and unsuccessful players. While Andre Ethier had been tearing up the league with his best impression of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, Raul Ibanez was doing his impression of Mr. Magoo at the plate.

Despite all of the admonition from Phillies fans, clamoring for the return of Pat Burrell and calling for [6] [7]poor Raul’s head on a pike! You murderous alarmists turned your pitchforks and torches away from Cole Hamels or Ryan Madsen and you decided to go after one of the kindest, quietest, most respectful team players in all of sports – just because he went through a modest (massively frustrating, gut-wrenching, mind-numbing) batting slump between the second week of the season and first week of May. Well, what do you have to say for yourselves now?

[8] May 3, 2011. Raul slaps a double to center off Washington’s Livan Hernandez in the bottom on the fourth inning. This is Ibanez’s first hit since April 18 and saved Raul from the ignominity of tying Desi “Don’t Call Me Arnaz” Relaford, who set the franchise record with an 0-for-36 in 1998. Raul would go on to help wallop the Washington Nationals as the Phillies improved their record to 21-9 (their best start since 1979). Ibanez accounted for 8 hits in 12 AB, including a single and double and finally a HR into the second deck above right field capping a 7-3 shellacking of Washington.

[9]One week earlier, Ibanez had been hitting .150 but now he stands solidly over .200 and clearly out of whatever mental funk he’d been in for most of the season. Ibanez is hitting .333 (61 for 183) with a 14 homers and 41 RBIs in his career against Washington. Eleven of those hits have come in 20 at-bats against Washington lefty John Lannan, who took the loss Thursday night. Ibanez drove in three runs in the game, two on a third-inning double. He’s baaaaaaack.

[10]Stubborn pundits claim it is just Washington’s bad pitching but even the worst team in the majors is not throwing up a beer-league softball pitcher. Raul, Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Greg Gross have not publicly divulged their secret formula for Reinventing Raul but the more casual observe can note adjustments like standing closer to the plate, taking a shorter swing and trusting his first instinct rather than second-guessing his experience. No longer did we see Ibanez whiffing at every pitch over his head or lunging for balls in the dirt (which he would need an oar or cricket bat to actually hit) [11]and that is good news to the Phillies who had been sorely in need of some offense and specifically some production from the latter half of the lineup (everyone after Howard). Ironically this may not have been the biggest change for the Phillies offense this week. Charlie Manuel finally took the advice of a certain writer (whose name might rhyme with “Dyst-ofer Snow”) and revamped his lineup – placing Jimmy Rollins back in the leadoff spot and following him with Shane [12]Victorino and Placido Polanco. Hitting the scorching Polanco third is like throwing gasoline on a tire fire but now it looks like Ibanez and Ben Francisco can provide some protection for Ryan Howard (who tied for the league lead in April with 28 RBI). Rollins and Victorino atop the lineup is like having two leadoff hitters (check my lineup predictions from January 27) and with this pitching staff, even a little offense goes a long way! Now who wants to argue that the Phillies can’t score runs? Let’s see what happens against the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. That will be the true test.

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