08/06/2002 6:17 pm ET
MLBeat: Ibañez gets chance
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- During his first six years in the big leagues, mostly with the Seattle Mariners, Raul Ibañez was nothing more than a fourth outfielder. But under manager Tony Peña, Ibañez is getting a chance to play on a regular basis and is taking advantage of the situation.
Going into Tuesday's action, Ibañez, 30, was hitting a respectable .268 with 16 home runs and 69 RBIs. In fact, he is on pace to drive in 100 runs and is the regular first baseman until Mike Sweeney returns from injury. Ibañez's best month came in July in which he hit .280 and led the Majors in RBIs with 31.
The left-handed hitting slugger says getting his confidence back and the
managing style of Peña are two reasons he is having a big season.
"Tony Peña put me out there everyday against lefties and righties," said Ibañez, who signed with the Royals on January 22, 2001 as a free agent.
"(During my career), my confidence sometimes wavered because I wasn't playing as much. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. But I knew if I got an opportunity to play consistently then I would be able to perform.
Ibañez started to perform on a platoon basis for the Royals last season. In 104 games, he hit .280 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs. But the 2002 season didn't look promising for Ibañez at first. He was hitting under .200 and found himself on the bench under then-manager Tony Muser. But that changed when the Royals hired Peña to be their new manager on May 15th.
"(Ibañez) happened to take advantage of the opportunity," Peña says.
"Now he is showing everybody what he can do. He (hasn't played) much at first base, but he has been playing it lately. As a manager you love to have a guy (like Ibañez) who comes to the ballpark every single day and plays the right way.
Ibañez admits that he is not the best first baseman in the league and still needs to get used to playing the position.
"(Playing first base) is a way to get in the lineup and it's a constant adjustment for me," Ibañez said.
"But it is fun because it makes me valuable to Tony and we don't have to get
somebody else to play first. Anywhere I can help the team, that's where I want
Knoblauch back in New York: Left fielder Chuck Knoblauch made his first Yankee Stadium appearance since Game 5 of the World Series and received a nice ovation from Yankee fans during his first at-bat. Before signing a free-agent contract with the Royals last December, Knoblauch helped the Yankees win three World Series titles in four years from 1998 to 2001.
Knoblauch, hitting .194 this season, said that he looks forward to playing the three-game series against his former team.
"It feels real good (to be back in New York)," he said. "...With baseball playing everyday, it tough to get caught up in missing somewhere because you have to focus so much on where you are at and playing for Kansas City and things like that. ...I'm sure I'll miss (New York) once the games starts and (I) see the guys. I haven't given it much thought other than when I came here today.
During his press conference before the game Tuesday, Knoblauch talked about how much of a joy it is to play for Peña even though the Royals have been losing a lot of games.
"Tony Peña has been a big difference," he said. "We are 20-something games under .500 and it is still a good environment. He's very enthusiastic and it has rubbed off to all the players in the clubhouse. I don't think you can walk in the locker room and see a depressed team even though we are losing.
Knoblauch had missed the last two games after being hit on the elbow by a pitch, but appeared to be OK when he played left field against the Yankees on Tuesday. In fact, he has spent a lot of time on the bench because of injury. He had missed 39 games because of a left forearm strain. However, since his return to the lineup on July 20, Knoblauch is hitting .283.
Sweeney to see action soon: According to Peña, first baseman Mike Sweeny, who is on the disabled list because of a back and hip injury, could see action at Triple-A Omaha in a couple of days.
"Mike is swinging (the bat) right now." Peña said. "Yesterday he took some swings and had live (batting practice). His progress is real good. I assume he will play some games in Omaha. This way he can join the ballclub next week."
Sweeney has played 84 games this season and is hitting .355 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs.
Crunching the numbers: Since their nine-game winning streak from July 13-20, the Royals are 3-13. It hasn't helped that the team is hitting .232 during that span.
Fantasy edge: Neifi Perez is having the worst season of his career, hitting .231 with two home runs and 26 RBIs entering Tuesday's action against the Yankees. However, Perez seems to play at his best during day games, hitting .306 (44-for-144) with 15 RBIs as opposed to .192 (54-for-281) at night.
Bill Ladson is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.