By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a prodigious start to the season, the home runs haven’t come as frequently for Raul Ibanez. But when the Seattle Mariners really needed a big fly on Thursday, they called on the 41-year-old veteran and he responded.
With two outs and the Mariners trailing 6-5 in top of the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals, manager Eric Wedge brought in Ibanez to pinch hit for catcher Henry Blanco.
Ibanez belted a solo home run off Royals’ all-star closer Greg Holland to tie the game and eventually send it to extra innings. The Mariners would eventually waste his big homer, losing 7-6 in the 13th inning.
Still, no player on the Mariners draws more praise from Wedge about hitting in those situations than Ibanez.
“He likes being up there in those situations,” Wedge said. “Any time you have a chance where one swing of the bat can alter the game, you’d like him up there.”
Ibanez, who had never faced the hard-throwing Holland, swung and missed at a 99 mph fastball. Then Holland threw five straight sliders to Ibanez — three for balls, one for a strike and the fifth a hanger that Ibanez hit an estimated 386 feet.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Ibanez said. “He throws a 100 mph and he has a really good slider. I was just trying to swing easy and get a base hit. I hit the slider and got it up in the air.”
But even with all those sliders in a row, Ibanez couldn’t cheat and look for one.
“You have to respect the 100 mph fastball,” Ibanez said. “I was just battling at that point.”
The Ibanez homer broke Holland’s streak of 31 straight saves. It was also just the third home run Holland has allowed in 57 appearances and 56 innings pitched. The last homer he gave up was on June 30 to Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe.
“When a guy throws that hard and has that good of a slider and the deception in his delivery, you can’t go up there and try to do damage,” Ibanez said.
It was Ibanez’s 26th homer of the season, which ties him with Barry Bonds for third most home runs hit by a player over the age of 40 in a season. He’s now three away from the record of 29 set by Ted Williams in 1960. It was also the 297th home run of Ibanez’s career.
It was just Ibanez’s second home run since the all-star break. After a torrid first half of the season in which he hit 24 home runs, he’s cooled off in the second half.
But after a few doubles in Houston and the home run on Thursday, he hopes he’s getting hot again.
“I’ve been feeling better as of late,” Ibanez said. “I’m just going to continue to grind and fight.”
Hernandez’s start pushed back
The Mariners will make an adjustment to their starting rotation. Felix Hernandez, who was scheduled to start Sunday at Safeco Field, will have his start pushed back to Wednesday. Hernandez is feeling no pain in his lower back after getting a cramp there in his most recent outing, but it’s a precautionary move by Wedge and the Mariners.
“I feel fine,” he said moments before tormenting Henry Blanco and his hair cut in the clubhouse on Wednesday.
Hernandez was against the delay.
“He feels good and he wants to start on Sunday, which I understand,” Wedge said. “But we are just going to be cautious. And he understands. It really isn’t going to affect how many starts he gets with how we have it played out. We just don’t want to take any chances.”
With the addition of James Paxton, it means the now six-man rotation will move up a day. Erasmo Ramirez will pitch on Sunday against the Rays. Taijuan Walker’s home debut will be pushed up to Monday and Joe Saunders will go Tuesday.