Solving the lefty bench bat riddle

Could Raul Ibanez be the lefthanded power bat off the bench for the Phillies? (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

As far as problems go, this should be considered a victory in that a lefthanded bench bat is the last missing piece for these Phillies. They hold an 8.5-game lead with 41 to play. Their current roster is certainly good enough on paper to win the World Series. Now we're just being nit picky.

But as colleague Bob Brookover deftly surmised in Thursday's Inquirer, the Phillies have a hole on the bench that could hurt come October.

Ross Gload was a valuable player in 2010 for the Phillies. A muscle tear in his right hip has rendered him almost useless in 2011. He is 3 for his last 25 and has an extra-base hit in only 5.3 of his at-bats. Last season, that figure was double, at 10.9 percent. He has yet to hit a home run this season.

The ninth inning of Tuesday's loss was a perfect example of how setting the table for a Gload pinch-hit appearance just isn't as good of an idea as it was in 2010.

As Bob notes in his story, acquiring someone like Jim Thome or Jason Giambi before Aug. 31 is a pipe dream. Those players will not clear waivers to the Phillies. Too many teams ahead will block or want those players for themselves.

So the Phillies are left with pillaging through the internal candidates. Jack Cust was signed to a minor-league deal last week and he'll have a few weeks of regular at-bats at triple-A before a likely major-league tryout in September when rosters expand.

A source mentioned another interesting name to Bob... Brandon Moss. He has a .508 slugging percentage at triple A and has hit righties (.870) and lefties (.878) equally well. He has major-league experience. He, too, could have a September tryout.

Then there's Domonic Brown, who very well could be the answer. Brown has struggled at triple A since his demotion, but he is still reaching base at a high rate. The concerns with Brown serving as a pinch-hitter are obvious: It's not a role he is accustomed to. And, at this point, he is more likely to draw a walk than smash a home run. (Which is fine, but if the Phillies are looking for lefthanded pop, he might not be the best solution.)

So... how about Raul Ibanez?

The 39-year-old is mired in a miserable season. His OPS is down to .689, more than 100 points off last season's pace. His on-base percentage is .282, which ranks eighth worst in the majors among qualified hitters.

John Mayberry Jr. may not be ready to assume an everyday role. A little less than two months of hot hitting does not imply that. But he deserves at least a better look down the stretch in a regular role. Charlie Manuel seems to have realized that.

"As we go along, I play on playing John more when the opportunities arises," Manuel said Wednesday. "Like I always say, people can beat people out on our team, but at the same time we do have guys that are kind of stable in our lineup. That doesn’t mean that whoever does the best and our best chance to win the game isn’t who I’ll use."

The question is, can Manuel pull the trigger on benching a guy who is well-respected in the clubhouse and an established regular on this team? Hard to say. The numbers certainly warrant it. Since Ibanez's super game July 31, he is 6 for 45 (.133) with a slugging percentage (.178) lower than his on-base percentage (.184).

He's a streaky hitter, yes. Will he come around one more time? Or is his role best served coming off the bench as a lefthanded power threat? 

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