SEATTLE -- It's been a tale of two halves for Raul Ibanez this season, but the Mariners veteran isn't about to write off the last three weeks of play as Seattle heads down the stretch in his 18th Major League campaign.
Ibanez hit a game-tying pinch-hit home run in the top of the ninth inning in Seattle's 7-6 13-inning loss to the Royals on Thursday, just the second homer since July 12 for a man who leads the club with 26 for the season.
Ibanez hit .267 with 24 homers and 56 RBIs in 76 games prior to the All-Star break, but just .231 with two homers and five RBIs since going into Friday's series opener with the Rays. But he's heated up of late, batting .360 (9-for-25) over his last eight games and feels like he's back on track.
"I think I've been swinging better lately," said the 41-year-old outfielder. "I've been seeing the ball better. And even when I wasn't feeling that well, I was battling every at-bat. Obviously, the ball wasn't going over the fence and I wasn't getting that part of it. But I was scratching and I felt I was putting some at-bats together, fouling pitches off, having long at-bats and all the stuff you need to create momentum."
His goal for the final 22 games?
"Win," Ibanez said with a smile. "Win as many games as we can. We've got three weeks left and I think it's a good thing to set the tone for these young guys for next season, to create an environment that is young and competitive and winning and make some stuff happen on the field. Good things have a carryover effect and bad things sometimes have a carryover as well, so to create a good carryover effect for everyone is important."
Ibanez has seen his playing time reduced in recent weeks, but manager Eric Wedge had him starting Friday's opener of the Rays series after his pinch-hit home run Thursday. Ibanez's solo shot off Royals closer Greg Holland was the Mariners' first two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying pinch-hit homer since Brian Hunter's two-run shot tied up a game in Detroit on Aug. 3, 1996.
"I thought that was the best ball he'd hit in a while, but he's hit a couple like that lately," Wedge said. "Obviously, he's had a tremendous year. When you impact a ballgame like he did last night, you want to give him a chance to get back in there. It's a fine line for us. Obviously, we've got a lot of young kids up here that want to play and need to play. But you have to also respect a Major League season and what Raul's done for us and Kendrys Morales as well as a few of the other veterans."
Paxton feels ready to make Major League debut
SEATTLE -- With just 22 games left in the season it would take a miracle for the Mariners to enter the postseason conversation. Still, the dazzling debuts of late-season additions like pitcher Taijuan Walker and outfielder Abraham Almonte have given fans a reason to stay tuned in September.
On Saturday, James Paxton will take the mound and become the next rookie to introduce himself to Major League Baseball, facing off against the Rays in the second game of their three-game series in Seattle.
"I'm excited, excited to watch him," manager Eric Wedge said. "I know he's excited to pitch, as well he should be. It's always fun to watch a debut, especially when it's a starting pitcher."
In Triple-A, Paxton excelled after a rough start, leading the Rainiers in wins, starts, innings and strikeouts at the time of his callup. The Mariners selected the University of Kentucky product in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. The hard-throwing lefty can reach 98 mph with his fastball, and also utilizes a cutter, curveball, and changeup.
"I feel like I've kind of done my part in the Minor Leagues, learned a lot of things," Paxton said. "I definitely feel like I'm ready for a shot up here and I'm just really excited about it and I'm ready to go."
Paxton, who is ranked as the Mariners' No. 6 prospect according to MLB.com, is a member of Seattle's "Big Three" pitching prospects. Walker, the group's leader, made his big league debut on Aug. 30th and excelled, allowing just two hits and one unearned run in five innings. Danny Hultzen -- the No. 2 pick in the 2011 Draft -- has missed much of the 2013 season with injuries, but pitched two perfect innings for the Rainiers on Sunday.
Paxton will be the fourth rookie to start a game on the mound for the Mariners this year. Brandon Maurer started the year in the Major League rotation, leap-frogging Tacoma after ending last season in Double-A. Major League hitters punished Maurer in his first attempt in Seattle, and he was demoted to Triple-A before reappearing in Seattle as a member of the bullpen. The Mariners hope that he can reestablish himself as a starter after the season in the Arizona Fall League.
Erasmo Ramirez, a rookie who also saw time in Seattle last season, has made nine starts for the Mariners this season, going 5-1 with a 5.07 ERA. While Ramirez struggled to stay in games early, he's thrown 25 2/3 innings over his last four starts with a 2.81 ERA.
Mariners set to honor Latin American ballplayers
SEATTLE -- The Mariners annual tribute to the contributions Latin Americans have made to the game of baseball will take place Saturday when they face the Rays in a 6:10 p.m. PT game at Safeco Field.
The Mariners will wear home white jerseys with the name "Marineros" across the front. The game-worn jerseys will be available at the Mariners.com auction page after the game.
Former Mariners catcher Dave Valle will throw out the game's ceremonial first pitch. Valle is the founder of Esperanza International, a non-profit organization that works in Latin America to lift children and families out of poverty.
The evening's festivities also include performances by Banda Vagos, playing brass-based traditional Mexican music, and the singing of the National Anthem by Tess Altiveros, a soprano from Seattle who has performed extensively with Puget Sound opera companies and symphonies.
Starting lineups and batters for the game will be announced in English by Safeco Field public address announcer Tom Hutyler, and in Spanish by Carlos Moreno, an executive and announcer for Adelante Media Group, which operates Spanish language radio stations in Seattle.
• Felix Hernandez remains in line to pitch Wednesday against the Astros at Safeco after having his start pushed back from Sunday due to a cramp in his back sustained in his last outing in Kansas City. Manager Eric Wedge said he'll be tested in the next day or two, but doesn't expect any problems.
"We'll have him [throw] off the mound for sure and make sure he works off that angle and that everything is fine," Wedge said Friday. "But he felt really good playing catch yesterday, so that was a big step for him. We'll see how he feels today and go from there."
• When Kyle Seager notched his 30th double of the season on Thursday, he became just the 11th Mariner to record more than one season with 20 homers and 30 doubles. Seager has 30 doubles and 22 homers this year after hitting 35 doubles and 20 home runs in 2012.
In franchise history, a 35/20 season has been accomplished 44 times by 19 different players. Edgar Martinez did it seven times.
• Seattle's 13-inning walk-off loss in Kansas City on Thursday was the team's 12th extra-inning loss this season, tying a club record set in 1982. The Mariners are 6-12 in extra innings.
The Mariners have suffered 11 walk-off losses this year. Since the start of 2010, Seattle's 47 walk-off losses are easily the most in the Majors, with the Cardinals and Reds tied for second at 36.
• Sunday's 1:10 p.m. PT game against the Rays will be broadcast on 770 AM (KTTH) due to a conflict with Seahawks football on 710 ESPN Seattle. The game will be televised live as usual by ROOT Sports.
• The Mariners hit nine doubles against the Royals over their last two games, five on Wednesday and four on Thursday.
• Over their last six games the Mariners are 5-for-50 with runners in scoring position. Their best mark in those contests was 2-for-12 on Wednesday.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. Jacob Thorpe is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.