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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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July 18, 2008 11:17 PM

M's cruise on early homers

Posted by Geoff Baker

indians0718 043.jpg

Cesar Jimenez, above, notches a strikeout, then walks a guy but gets a double-play grounder to end the game in the ninth. The Mariners win 8-2 over the Cleveland Indians, riding a grand slam homer from Raul Ibanez in the second inning and a three-run shot by Jose Lopez in the fourth.

Both homers came off Aaron Laffey.

Felix Hernandez goes six strong innings for the win.

Lots of talk after the game about Ibanez and how his three-hit pouting might impact trade rumors. Ibanez said he doesn't think that far ahead. Says it would throw him off his game and the way he prepares for it.

I asked him about what goes into that.

"For me, it starts the night before,'' he said. "And right when you wake up, it's game time. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning, you're already thinking about who's pitching and what's coming up and what your approach for that day is.''

Mariners manager Jim Riggleman told us what happens once Ibanez arrives at the ballpark.

"He does so much,'' he said. "He's in great physical shape and he spends a great deal of time in the batting cage every day. He's relentless in there.''

Riggleman noted that a shortstop or catcher might not be able to put in that much hitting time. That it might prove detrimental to their defensive game, given the energy it saps from a player's body to do that much cage work. But in Ibanez's case, it merely keeps him as ready as can be.

"With what he does in the off-season to prepare for the season,'' he said, "he's physically so strong that he doesn't lose anything during the course of the season.''

What does that focus do? Keeps Ibanez's head in the game. He'd hit into a double-play his first time up. But one inning later, he'd stood in the on-deck circle as Willie Bloomquist drew a four-pitch walk to force in a run. Ibanez knew the first pitch he'd see would likely be down the pipe. He was ready for it and hit his grand slam. He wasn't still worried about the DP grounder an inning earlier.

"It's a clean slate every time you go up there,'' he said. "And the quicker you can let go of negative things that happen, the quicker you can get back to focusing on the things you need to do.''

If only the rest of his team did that every night.

Hernandez felt stronger than he had his last time out. Said his command felt better as well.

Ibanez joked about Hernandez having hit the team's only other grand slam home run this season.

"He's been walking around here with his chesat stuck out a little bit,'' Ibanez said. "Ever since it happened, he hasn't stopped reminding us.''

But Hernandez knew his place when asked whose was better. He quickly pointed towards Ibanez across the room.

"Raul is such a good hitter,'' he said. "He's a great guy. An unbelievable player.''

Which is why other teams -- starting with the Diamondbacks and Mets -- would like to take a crack at landing him. We'll see how talks progress.


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