Ibanez displayed his value with a grand slam among his three hits to back another strong start from Felix Hernandez as the Seattle Mariners ended the Cleveland Indians' five-game winning streak with an 8-2 win Friday night.
Hitting-needy Arizona is reportedly in pursuit of the 36-year-old Ibanez, Seattle's RBI leader with 59 after his season-high four Friday. And the Mariners, 20 games under .500, are already bringing up rookies in a preview of 2009, increasing the likelihood for a fire sale of veterans before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Ibanez is one veteran leader whom Seattle's youth would dearly miss.
"I don't think I can explain in words how much he means to the ballclub. Even in Kansas City, when he played there and you talk to guys there, he's one of the more first-class people you will ever meet in the game," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said.
"He's also a heck of a player."
On cue, Ibanez was in the clubhouse moments later offering advice, encouragement and a pat on the shoulder to rookie Bryan LaHair. LaHair, promoted from Triple-A Friday to take most of the work at first base, grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the eighth in his first major league at-bat.
Ibanez, a Mariner for 10 of his 13 seasons, said he is "semi-aware" of talk he may soon be traded. But he isn't consumed by it.
"The game's too hard to play as it is. I'd be foolish to try to guess what is going to happen," he said. "I've been around long enough to know you hear a bunch of stuff is going to happen -- then it never happens.
"My job right now is to try to help the Seattle Mariners win ball games. And that's it. I try to make it that simple."
The 22-year-old Hernandez showed why he is one of the only Mariners who is untouchable in the trade market. He struck out eight and allowed just four hits and two runs in six innings, throwing 98 pitches in his second start since returning from a sprained ankle that had him on the disabled list. Riggleman said the pitch-count watch will be off his ace for his next start.
Hernandez allowed three runs or fewer for the seventh consecutive start, and his season ERA is a sparkling 2.95. Yet he improved to only 7-6 on one of baseball's most disappointing teams.
Another bust, last-place Cleveland, lost its 10th consecutive road game by helping Seattle to five unearned runs in the second inning.
After Jamie Burke singled with two outs, Aaron Laffey (5-6) hit No. 9 hitter Yuniesky Betancourt with a pitch after getting ahead in the count 0-2. Ichiro Suzuki's groundball would have ended the inning if it hadn't hit off the glove of shortstop Jhonny Peralta for an error that loaded the bases. Laffey then walked Willie Bloomquist on four pitches to force in Burke with the game's first run.
"Errors are going to happen, but as a pitcher you've got to handle it," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Ibanez then muscled a 88 mph fastball deep into the right-field bleachers for his sixth career grand slam.
It was Seattle's second slam of the season. Hernandez had the first, an opposite-field stunner at New York's Shea Stadium on June 23 that he still brags about.
"Yeah, he's been walking around with his check out around here a lot," Ibanez said, chuckling.
Asdrubal Cabrera was back for the first time since Cleveland optioned him to Triple-A Buffalo June 9. He walked and scored in the third, following a double by All-Star and Seattle-area native Grady Sizemore and a groundout by Casey Blake.
Jose Lopez made it 8-1 in the fourth with a three-run home run. That was the end for Laffey, who allowed nine hits but just three earned runs. He walked two and struck out one. He has just one win in his last six starts and said he's felt "out of whack" for weeks.
Blake hit Hernandez's first pitch of the sixth for his 10th home run to make it 8-2.
The Mariners are switching starting pitchers, with RHP Miguel Batista going Saturday and LHP Jarrod Washburn Sunday. The team said Washburn has the flu. ... Cabrera was sent down after a .184 start. But Wedge said he will now play regularly at 2B and also some at SS to give Peralta a break. Cabrera, impressive in his major league debut over the final seven weeks of last season, hit .360 over a month in Buffalo, but Wedge is more impressed with how the 22-year-old appears to be in better shape. "He's not where he needs to be yet, but he's well on his way. A lot of it is nutrition," Wedge said. ... Seattle closer J.J. Putz (elbow) threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out one in a rehabilitation outing for Triple-A Tacoma. He threw 17 pitches, 13 for strikes. "Everything felt good ... it was really good," Putz said. The first-time All-Star in 2007 has been on the DL since June 12 but could be activated Sunday.