Raul Ibanez said he has been through worse slumps than the one he is now enduring, and each time he has figured out the problem.

So, based on his experience, the Phillies' 37-year-old leftfielder believes it's just a matter of time before he regains the stroke that made him the club's best hitter over the first three months of the season.

"It's going to be back," Ibanez said yesterday before the Phils concluded a three-game series against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. "It's a six-, seven-month season, and I'd rather go through it now than later. You're always one good swing away. It's never as bad as it looks."

Charlie Manuel decided to give Ibanez a rest last night, starting Ben Francisco instead. The manager explained that he wanted to give Francisco some work, and added that he felt the night off might benefit Ibanez. Francisco hit a two-run single in the first.

"Raul just kind of needs a break," Manuel said.

Ibanez appeared headed for a monster season before he strained a groin muscle and went on the disabled list in mid-June. At the time, he was batting .312 with 22 homers and 59 RBIs.

But since his return on July 11, he's batting .239 (28 for 117) with five homers and 19 RBIs. His problems have deepened this month with a .218 average, one homer, and three RBIs.

"The most frustrating part of the game sometimes is you know what you need to be doing, then getting yourself to actually do it," Ibanez said, adding a golf analogy. "You have to go back to your sand wedge and not use your driver for a while."

Ibanez insists he's healthy, even though it appears at times he favors his left groin when he runs. Asked if he felt he lost his timing while on the DL, he said, "I don't know. It's really not important at this point. I just need to focus on what I need to do to get everything right, to get everything coordinated. It's close. I'll be there. I know I'm going to hit."

From his perspective, Manuel said Ibanez has been late starting his swing because he's focusing on keeping his eye on the ball, and then he rushes through his swing.

Mets up next

The injury-wracked Mets have faded so badly in the NL East that Manuel may have to guard against complacency when the Phils begin a four-game series tonight at Citi Field.

"I want our guys to be aware the Mets can still score runs, and [Mets ace Johan] Santana can beat anybody," Manuel said. "It's not like they're not capable of beating you. You've still got to take it to them."

Manuel did not mention Brad Lidge by name, but his assessment of the Phils made it apparent that the closer is the club's biggest concern.

"Now we have the starting pitching, and if we get our bullpen straightened out a little bit we should not only win our division but go deep in the playoffs," Manuel said.

Jameer goes deep

Jameer Nelson and several of his Orlando Magic teammates took batting practice yesterday and got to chat with some of the Phillies.

The former all-American guard at St. Joseph's has a hitch in his swing, but he was obviously delighted when he stroked a pitch from Phils hitting coach Milt Thompson into the flower bed in left field.

"I bring my teammates up every summer for a week of workouts," Nelson said.

Extra bases

Jimmy Rollins yesterday unveiled a billboard featuring his childhood picture and the message "Be A Champion" as part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's new advocacy campaign. The billboards will be posted throughout the Philadelphia region. Rollins grew up as a member of the Boys Club in Alameda, Calif. . . . Brett Myers struck out three in his first rehab appearance since undergoing hip surgery in June. Pitching for single-A Clearwater, he allowed two hits and threw 13 of his 19 pitches for strikes.