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Tuesday, June 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Healthy Ibanez a Royal pain

Seattle Times staff reporter

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If there was any doubt the Mariners missed Raul Ibanez on Sunday, he confirmed it Monday.

While he was feverish on one day, he was on fire the next.

The day made a difference for him, from being sick and sitting out to getting three hits and two runs batted in to help Seattle ease past Kansas City 4-1.

Talking about Sunday, manager Mike Hargrove mentioned "throwing up."

He was referring to Ibanez's malaise, not how he felt about not having the outfielder's .283 batting average and 41 RBI in the lineup, and the 9-4 loss that made everyone feel ill that day.

Winning was curative Monday, with Gil Meche going seven fine four-hit innings, Rafael Soriano fanning three in the eighth and dancing off the mound, and J.J. Putz closing with his eighth save.

Between Ibanez's return and the solid pitching, albeit against a hapless Royals lineup, it may have been easy to overlook the game that Jose Lopez had to backbone all of the above.

Mariners update


Winning pitcher:

Gil Meche (5-4)

Losing pitcher:

Mike Wood (3-1)

Today: Minnesota at Seattle,

7:05 p.m., FSN/KOMO (1000 AM)

Starting pitchers:

M's Felix Hernandez (4-6)

vs. Francisco Liriano (4-0)

Lopez, who looks more and more established at second base and the third slot in the lineup, had two superb defensive plays and two big hits.

"Lopez is continuing to hit well," Hargrove said. "And he made a great play on [Mark] Teahen's ball in the seventh to get an out — gave us a chance to catch our breath.

"His run-scoring double the next inning was big, but no bigger than that play he made when the Royals were coming at us."

Lopez's first impact was saving a bounced throw from catcher Kenji Johjima in the top of the sixth and diving to tag David DeJesus for the first out.

Ichiro led off the home sixth with a double but was out at third on Adrian Beltre's grounder to short. Then Lopez doubled to put two in scoring position before Ibanez broke open the scoreless game with his third hit, a two-run single up the middle.

"After Ichiro was out, I was really focused on getting a hit. We needed one," said Lopez, who also doubled in the two-run eighth. "I was looking for a breaking ball and got a curve and just hit it."

Meche, with a two-hitter to that point, gave up two singles to open the seventh, when Teahen grounded a potential hit to the right side. Lopez ran it down with a dive and threw the runner out. Kansas City got a run, but getting an out was large.

"It was clutch, in that situation," Hargrove said.

Lopez said he just kept chasing the ball. "It almost helped to go that far left. I had no chance to try for second, so I was focused only on first."

With that play, Meche did catch his breath.

"I got back in my groove and got the last two outs," he said. "The last pitch I threw was the best curveball I threw all night."

That is saying a lot. From his first out, fanning DeJesus, Meche had a sharp curve to go with a well-spotted fastball.

"Funny, my curve was horrible in the bullpen," he said. "It got so bad, I just told Chavvy [Rafael Chaves], 'Never mind. It'll get going in the game.' And it did."

Still, after five innings, Meche was hooked up 0-0 with Mike Wood, a 26-year-old pitcher whose previous five appearances against Seattle had resulted in 14 runs in 11 innings.

Then Ichiro led off the sixth with a double and was out at third.

Lopez came through, and reliever Jimmy Gobble got a 2-2 fastball up to Ibanez, who ripped it to center.

"I was still weak, but in a way that might be good, keeping you from over-swinging," Ibanez said. "Anything is better than Sunday."

That day, when he was not being sick or on the training table, he did make a real effort to get into the lineup.

"I was in the batting cage, with Dr. [Mitch] Storey right next to me," he said. "I'd take five swings with balls on a batting tee and have to hang onto the netting around the cage to keep standing. It was terrible."

But it was not enough to make Ibanez quit trying.

"I took five more swings and had to grab the netting again, to keep from falling down," he said, adding that hitting coach Jeff Pentland told him to stop. "Why risk being out for longer?

"It was good advice. I wasn't 100 percent today. But I didn't have to hang onto anything."

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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Monday, May 6

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