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Is it too early for Phillies to worry about Raul Ibanez?

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By now I'm sure most of you are aware of the Phillies'  few but notable questions marks as the season inches closer: "Who will the fifth starter beRaul Ibanez. Photo: http://kevinmbaseball.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/raul-ibanez.jpg?,"  "Can Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero  return to their respective bullpen roles this season?,"  "Can Placido Polanco play third base?" Well, the Phillies may have to add another big question to that short list:

"Why is Raul Ibanez struggling so badly?"

Ibanez is currently at a 4 for 41 clip in the 2010 Grapefruit League. He insists that he is healthy after off-season surgery that limited his usual winter workouts. This could be the case when you factor in that Ibanez usually has strong springs. When he returned from the disabled list last July, Gary Matthews was commenting from the booth that his timing was off. This is understandable due to the fact that he had missed 22 games. And just the other day, Charlie Manuel reinterated the same sentiments pertaining to Ibanez's spring troubles.

We're not going to jump the gun here, but you have to at least wonder in the back of your head if Ibanez is just having a rough time, or maybe he is starting to decline. The man will be 38 years of age when the end of the season comes. He did have 34 home runs and close to 100 RBI's last year (94). Then again, Mike Schmidt hit 35 home runs and knocked in 113 when he was 37. He then dropped to 12 homers and 62 runs batted in for the 1988 campaign. To be fair, Schmidt was battling severe shoulder issues that year which prematurely ended his season in August, and as I recall (a "mere" 22 years ago) he had a half decent spring, so who knows?!!!  The main factor here is age. Obviously you can't compare Ibanez with just one player. Many players have rough springs. However, when a soon-to-be 38 year-old struggles, sometimes it raises a red flag more than a hitting slump of a younger player.

If there is a worst case scenario and Ibanez continues to have his difficulties, it will be interesting to see how the Phillies plan to proceed. You have Jayson Werth ready to test free agency after 2010, and you have a talented (but still raw) Domonic Brown waiting in the wings. Decisions, decisions..........

As I said, hopefully Ibanez will quiet all of us and have a great start like he did in 2009. Despite the talent in this Phillies lineup, they will need Ibanez if they plan to make another deep October run. The Phillies would like to eliminate their question marks instead of add to them a week before the season begins.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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