Placido Polanco's return was compromised by elbow injury, just as a nagging abdominal strain put a damper on Raul Ibanez's scorching debut.
Polanco and Ibanez know what it's like to leave something on the table because they had to suck it up. On April 21, a running Tim Hudson pitch caught Polanco's elbow in precisely the wrong spot, jostling loose some bone and tendon. He played through pain, received a cortisone shot, but the pain intensified until he could no longer bear it. From June 26 to July 17, he joined Chase Utley on the disabled list. When he returned, he put himself back in the hunt for a batting title with a nightly base hit or two. Unfortunately, time off didn't put him back at full strength. His last home run came July 22 in St. Louis - a two-and-a-half month power drought - and by September, every aspect of his game appeared to be cooked. He finished with a .298/.339/.386 (95 OPS+) slash line and was a late scratch for Game 1 of the Division Series. He underwent surgery to repair the elbow this winter.
That's basically how Ibanez's season looked in 2009 when he morphed into Babe Ruth for a couple of months then crashed back to earth. He even missed the same number of games, at exactly the same point in the season. He went under the knife to repair a sports hernia last December, but groin and abdominal problems appeared to linger into 2010. He started slowly, appeared to be coming around late on fastballs, then "leveled off," which is to say, settled into the up-and-down ride that Mariners fans came to expect from 10 seasons in Seattle. There were indeed stretches in '10 - albeit short stretches - when Ibanez carried the offense. There were also times when he never showed up to the park. He finished with a "pretty okay" sum-of-the-whole slash line of .275/.349/.444 (112 OPS+), which might be a fair measuring stick for this season's expectations.
They're different players, but their strengths and weaknesses offset, and I think it's fair to say they contribute equally given Ibanez's power and Polanco's glove, versatility and ability to make contact out of the two-hole. But are they exceptional anymore, the way players often must be in a title hunt, or just ordinary?
Extremely minor notes: Organizational infielder Ozzie Chavez has signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. He was with Reading and Lehigh Valley for the past two seasons. ... Rule 5 pick Michael Martinez went 1-for-3 in Game 1 of the Dominican Winter League Best of 9 series between Toros and Oriente. Wilson Valdez's squad was bounced from the postseason in the Round Robin tournament.