ST. PETERSBURG -- Raul Ibanez found his stroke long enough to compile a small Spring Training hot streak, and that is an encouraging sign as the Yankees look to him for production as their designated hitter against right-handed pitching.
Ibanez, 39, was in New York's Opening Day lineup on Friday, batting seventh against Rays right-hander James Shields, and one inning after hitting an RBI groundout in the second, Ibanez turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead with a three-run homer.
"Spring Training is over now, and everything that happened before today is really irrelevant," Ibanez said after New York's 7-6 loss. "I was definitely looking forward to playing this game. Unfortunately, we didn't win."
Ibanez wrapped the spring hitless in his final six at-bats, but he had gone 6-for-12 with two homers and six RBIs before that, leading the Yankees with three Grapefruit League homers.
"He didn't look good early, but of late, he's looked good," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "So what does it all mean? I can't tell you. All I know is he had 20 [homers] and [84 RBIs] last year.
"He can go out in the field defensively. He can still hit right-handers, and he can provide the long ball. So we put a $1.1 million bet that he can do this for us in 2012. But it's a bet. We'll find out. Do I think he will? Yeah, I do."
Ibanez finished the spring batting .150 (9-for-60). He hit .245 in 144 games for the Phillies last year.
"Right now, I'm really just thinking about our club and coming back tomorrow," Ibanez said. "[A good start] certainly helps. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and the next day, and starting the season."