Raul Ibanez is hot, like early 2009, pre-groin injury hot. Since July 8, when he replaced an injured Chase Utley in the three-spot, Ibanez has hit .352 raising his average almost 40 points in just over two weeks.
The oft maligned leftfielder knows he is creating a stir. The Phillies are 11-4 (nine straight wins at home) with Ibanez hitting in front of Ryan Howard. Clearly the protection Ibanez gets with the Howard/Werth combo at four and five has allowed him to achieve some of his recent success.
“You got the big man behind you, that definitely doesn't hurt," said Ibanez, who also noted the number of fastballs he sees now compared to before July 8 is “incredible”. Simply put, teams are more likely to give Raul pitches hoping to avoid Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth behind him.
The question becomes: What do you do with $11 million man when Chase Utley (presuming he comes back healthy) re-enters the lineup?
It could be an unenviable position for Charlie Manuel come September. If he continues at this .350 clip or even a respectable .300, Ibanez will be hitting up around .275-.290.
The Phillies would be hard pressed to move a guy out a spot where he’s finally starting to produce. However, there are a few options the team could explore.
Manuel and staff could simply move everyone in the lineup down a slot behind Ibanez and put Utley in the clean-up role. They could slip Utley into the five or six spot as to avoid tinkering with Howard’s spot in the lineup. There is even the rarely utilized batting the pitcher in the six or seven spot to turn the lineup over faster, a strategy used often in 2008 by Tony La Russa in St. Louis. The latter is probably very unlikely to occur.
Nonetheless, Raul Ibanez has given the Phillies management something to think about. Obviously this issue only exists as long as Ibanez continues to swing a hot bat. Management must be thrilled to finally get a real contribution from Ibanez, who has been skewered in the press and by fans.
It will be interesting to see, if Ibanez continues his hot play, how Charlie Manuel and staff will address this $11 million question.