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Spring Postcard: Ibanez brings consistency to Phillies lineup

1) It was a quiet offseason for the world champs. Their main move was to let free agent Pat Burrell leave without so much as an offer. The Phils will replace Pat the Bat in left field with the Ibanator 3000X -- which, to satisfy league bylaws requiring that, for the purpose of box score uniformity, a player have two names, is better known as Raul Ibanez. Philly's beef with Burrell at the plate was that he had too many highs and lows. But Ibanez hits like he's impervious to what's going on around him. He's the picture of consistency. Like a machine. (As we all know, the Ibanator 3000X is a major improvement over the 2500X, which had trouble hitting in cold weather and against pitchers who were shorter than 5-foot-8.) Ibanez has been a regular for the last seven seasons, which means he's been an everyday player for 42 months. Of those 42, he's hit worse than .250 in only eight of them. Burrell, on the other hand, had 22 months of .250 or worse in his nine seasons, including three months of .227 or worse in 2008. The one potential knock on the Ibanez signing: He'll be 39 when his three-year, $30 million deal ends. But he's a low-mileage Ibanator 3000X; signing him is like buying a '74 Lincoln from a little old lady who only drove it to church. As mentioned above, he's only been a regular for seven seasons -- and he's played 162 games in two of the last four seasons. And he's in freakishly good shape.

2) There's an opening in the bullpen. The 50-game suspension of J.C. Romero for a positive drug test (he said it came from a supplement) means that Philly needs a lefty reliever. Romero was the only southpaw to see significant innings out of the pen last year. Scott Eyre, who came over from the Cubs last year, is an option, but he was almost strictly a lefty-on-lefty guy down the stretch, and manager Charlie Manuel needs someone he can trust to give him and inning-plus if need be. Dennys Reyes was a possible pickup, but he signed with the Cardinals yesterday. Will Ohman and Joe Beimel have been linked with the Phils of late.

3) Kyle Kendrick isn't helping himself. Kendrick is in the mix for the fifth starter's spot, but he had a rough outing against Team USA yesterday. It wasn't just that he got hit. He also lost his composure on a couple of occasions, once after he made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt and once when a seeing eye grounder found a hole. Both times he threw his arms in the air, the universal symbol for, "Come on, bro!" He wasn't showing anyone up -- he was mad at himself -- but the display didn't sit well with pitching coach Rich Dubee. After the game, Dubee was sitting in the conference room where Manuel was meeting with the press. When Manuel was asked about Kendrick, Dubee chimed in unsolicited, saying, "That's not acceptable behavior. He still needs a better, firmer presence. It looks a little frail at times. That chopped base hit? That's life to a sinker-ball guy and he's got to start to understand that. When you're throwing your arms up like, 'Why me?' or whatever he's throwing them up for, that's showing the other team there that you're scuffling." Dubee, who earlier in the spring said Kendrick was the frontrunner for the job, has backed off that, saying, "The race is on."

I'm starting to think Pat Gillick might like the name John Mayberry. He was in the Astros front office when the team picked John Mayberry in the first round of the 1967 draft. As GM of the Mariners, Gillick drafted John Mayberry Jr. in the first round of the 2002 draft, but Mayberry ended up going to Stanford. The Rangers took him in 2005, but after putting up so-so numbers, he was traded to the Phillies in the offseason, thanks in part to some campaigning from the team's senior advisor -- Gillick. Hard to blame Gillick for liking what he sees. Mayberry is 6-foot-6 and long. He covers a lot of ground with his loping strides (Manuel planned to try him in centerfield tonight instead of his usual right field) and when he gets his lanky arms extended, look out. He hit a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against Canada on Wednesday that didn't land until the top of the sixth inning. Mayberry, who bats from the right side, tends to be a dead pull hitter, and he's always going to fight the same problem that tall guys like Tony Clark and Richie Sexson have: a big hole in their swing. But Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson are working on opening up his stance and getting him to use the whole field. He's an intriguing player.

The Phils took BP on one of the back fields yesterday because Team USA was hitting in the stadium before their exhibition. That's my favorite part of spring training -- watching workouts on the back fields. After BP, Manuel and Thompson were working with catcher Ronny Paulino. There was no one around -- just the three of them and a handful of fans, one of whom (a 50-ish something dude) had earlier breathlessly called a friend to tell them that Cole Hamels had just passed in front of him while running laps. For 20 minutes, Thompson was tossing underhand pitches from maybe 20 feet while he and Manuel tinkered with Paulino. Finally, he hit a couple rockets right back off the screen in front of Thompson, who was psyched.... I feel old. While standing around in the clubhouse waiting for a player to show up (that's a huge part of the job), I had an eye on Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which was on one of the TV screens. A bunch of players were watching and laughing along, the way you do when you see something for the first time. Is it really that old? Sigh. The kids today.... I've been talking to a lot of Phillies about Manuel. I think they legitimately love playing for him. You can just tell by the way they answer questions. When you talk to a player about something he doesn't care about, it feels like you're making small talk with a stranger. But when these guys talk about Manuel, they look you in the eye, they get animated, they think long and hard about what they want to say, because they I think they really care about what people think of Manuel. Finding someone who doesn't like him ain't easy.

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