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Iwamura is hoping hit eases scrutiny

Akinori Iwamura's long-awaited first hit in a major-league exhibition was a key one.

By MARC TOPKIN AND EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published March 11, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Akinori Iwamura's long-awaited first hit in a major-league exhibition was a key one, a two-out, two-strike run-scoring single that gave the Devil Rays an early lead Saturday against the Phillies.

But he said the best thing about it was that he won't have to hear about not having one, given his 0-for-9 start.

"The Japanese media has been asking a lot of questions because I had not gotten a hit," Iwamura said through interpreter Masa Koyanagi. "I think this will make them quiet a little bit."

Iwamura said he is usually a slow starter and that the Japanese media that have been following him - two TV crews and a half-dozen writers Saturday - were more worried about his performance than he was. Still, he acknowledged that he was relieved: "Like I passed a kidney stone."

The Rays had been trying to get him to hit more to the middle of the field. Saturday, he swung and missed at two Freddy Garcia changeups, then timed the third and punched it into right. "They threw one too many changeups to him," said bench coach Bill Evers, who managed the home squad.

The Rays initially didn't ask for the ball, then retrieved it when it was fouled into the stands. Iwamura met later with the fan, Paul Termini, signed the ball and gave it to him, saying the ball from his first regular-season hit is the one he wants to keep.

Actually, Iwamura - nicknamed "Top Gun" because of his strong arm - seemed more excited about a pair of defensive plays he made: fielding a bunt bare-handed to throw out speedy Michael Bourn, and recovering after an initial bobble to throw out Aaron Rowand.

Given the media scrutiny, what did Iwamura think today's headlines in Japan would be? "Igawa pitching," he said. "Because he's a Yankee."

IN ST. PETERSBURG: The Rays blew a 4-1 lead when RHP Scott Dohmann had a rough seventh, allowing a double, a single and a homer, and lost to the Phillies 6-4. ... LHP Jeff Ridgway gave up the go-ahead run in an eighth that started with a leadoff walk to Ryan Howard. ... RHP Jae Seo, the likely No. 3 or 4 starter, threw three relatively impressive innings and was pleased with the movement on his two-seam fastball. "I'm ready," he said. ... Former Rays 2B Brent Abernathy made the trip with the Phillies but appears headed to Triple A.

IN FORT MYERS: After rallying from two down in the ninth, the Rays lost to the Twins 4-3 in 11, falling to 1-9. ... RHP Tony Peguero got two outs in the 11th, then allowed a double, a walk and a single to Luis Rodriguez. ... Fifth starter candidates RHPs Brian Stokes (three innings, one hit) and Jason Hammel (two innings, two hits) pitched well. ... INF/OF B.J. Upton had a big hit, knocking in the tying run with a two-out single. ... OF Elijah Dukes also had two hits. ... Manager Joe Maddon said he was pleased with the overall performance: "We pitched really well. We had a young group hitting against some good pitchers with them and we hung in there."

SWITZER RETURNS: LHP Jon Switzer worked one inning against the Twins in his first appearance since taking a comebacker off his right wrist Wednesday. He wore a padded protective sleeve on the wrist and allowed two runs on two hits.

"I thought he threw the ball with more velocity, but he just needs to get out there more often," Maddon said. "He was set back a little bit with the line drive. I thought he threw the ball better."

Switzer, who made just one pitch Wednesday before being hit, said he didn't believe the short outing last time set him back as he had extra time warming up in the bullpen because of a long inning.

MISCELLANY: The first roster cuts are expected in the next few days. ... Maddon said he made the trip to Fort Myers instead of managing the home game to make a point: "I can talk all I want, but it's about what you do. So I do what I kind of profess or pontificate, whatever you want to call it. I think it carries more weight that way." ... The Countdown to Opening Day radio show on 620-AM broadcasts 7-8 p.m. Monday from Boston's pizza shop in Tampa with team president Matt Silverman and RHP Seth McClung among the guests. ... The Rays are collecting nonperishable donations for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic Food Bank at each home game, and are donating $50 for every home run they hit.