Ibanez, Werth broke their slumps, team's

Raul Ibanez is congratulated by Ben Francisco after he homered against Arizona last week. He's on a 10-game hitting streak.
Raul Ibanez is congratulated by Ben Francisco after he homered against Arizona last week. He's on a 10-game hitting streak.
Posted: August 03, 2010

It's been said many times a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.

For a contender, though, there may be junctures during the marathon where he or she better pick up the pace before the road becomes a long, steep incline.

For the Phillies, that juncture came July 20, when they fell seven games behind Atlanta in the NL East. Last season, the Phillies were never more than 51/2 games off the pace, and that was on April 19, so only the most panicky among their followers were concerned.

If the Phillies return to postseason play for the fourth consecutive season, it's likely their recent surge, when they quickly carved their seven-game deficit down to 21/2 games, will be considered a turning point. The eight-game winning streak that ended Friday in Washington, the nine-wins-in-11-games uprising they'll take into Tuesday's game at Florida, will be the juncture where they picked up the pace.

If so, much of the credit should go to two players who broke out of prolonged slumps - Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth.

During the eight-game winning streak, Ibanez batted .444 (12 for 27) with eight RBIs, and Werth hit .370 (10 for 27) with five RBIs. The two outfielders helped ease the burden on Ryan Howard and mitigate the impact the prolonged loss of Chase Utley has had.

Ibanez and Werth continued their contributions even though the Phillies lost two of three against the Nationals. Ibanez, who missed Sunday's game with a sore left wrist from an attempt at a diving catch Saturday, went 3 for 8 with two RBIs, and Werth was 6 for 12 with two RBIs.

Ibanez is on a 10-game hitting streak and has hit .389 with nine RBIs since the all-star break. He downplayed the wrist injury - X-rays were negative - and that's not unusual. But he did hit a home run after taking his tumble in the outfield, which suggests it's nothing more than soreness.

He has thrived in the third spot of the batting order, which is reserved for the injured Utley. When he's hitting third, his average is .371 (26 for 70) with 13 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Ibanez said his current streak has no correlation to batting third.

"Sure, it's nice, but at the same time I can't or I won't attribute the way things have been going exclusively to that," he said. "I've got to control my mind-set and do the right thing in the batter's box.

"Your approach can't change according to where you're hitting in the lineup. Everything else can change around me, but I have to stay focused on what I can control and not get caught up in all the other variables that are constantly changing. What pitcher you face. What ballpark you're playing in. Lineup spots. All of that stuff can change, but you don't change your mind-set."

Ibanez was a major reason the Phillies were in control of their division a year ago at this time, when he reached 20 homers faster than any Phillie in history - 56 games - and had 51 RBIs after 50 games. But he tailed off dramatically during the second half after what he said was a groin strain. It turned out he had abdominal surgery, so the injury was worse than he let on.

But as Ibanez struggled through the first three months of the season, concerns were raised about his age (38), and the three-year, $31.5 million contract that extends through 2011 looked like a burden on the club. He's due $12,167,000 next season.

Ibanez, who has 10 homers and 51 RBIs, has a ways to go to match last season's career-high 34 homers and 93 RBIs, but he could surpass the 18 homers and 74 RBIs he's averaged during his 12-year career. Like Werth, he's been a notoriously streaky hitter throughout his career.

Ibanez hit .337 in July, raising his average from .240 at the end of June to .266.

Meanwhile, it also appears Werth won't match the 36 homers and 99 RBIs he had in his breakout 2009 season. Yet Werth, who has 15 homers and 56 RBIs, currently has a better batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage than at the end of last season.

More important, Ibanez and Werth threw the Phillies a life rope when they appeared to be sinking.

Howard on hold. With the day off, the Phils are waiting to see how Howard's sprained left ankle responds. Manager Charlie Manuel said Sunday that Howard "could very well be in the lineup Tuesday" against the Marlins. But that seems unlikely given that Howard needed help to limp off the field Sunday.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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