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Iwamura needs time to catch breath

Japanese 3B Akinori Iwamura's adjustment to the major leagues - or at least the spring training routine - has been a tiring process.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 13, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Japanese 3B Akinori Iwamura's adjustment to the major leagues - or at least the spring training routine - has been a tiring process.

After grounding out on the first pitch of his first two at-bats Monday, extending his spring-starting slump to 1-for-17, Iwamura asked manager Joe Maddon to take him out of the game because he was tired from playing five straight days. Iwamura, hitting .059, is scheduled to be off today as well.

"I was exhausted a little bit and need to get used to it," Iwamura said through interpreter Masa Koyanagi. "I was a little tired."

Iwamura's offensive struggles seem to stem from a timing problem, specifically as he strides with his front foot. Correcting it is more challenging as the Devil Rays coaches don't have any personal knowledge of Iwamura's form, having only seen him on DVD before he reported to camp.

"He is pulling off the ball a bit," Maddon said. "We're trying to help him along with that, but having not seen him in the past it's hard to say what it takes for him to get that foot down at the right moment."

Maddon raised the possibility of sending Iwamura cross-town to minor-league camp for a day so, in the less structured environment, he could get more consecutive at-bats (such as leading off every inning) "just to get repetitions in a game situation."

But Iwamura said he does not see the need to go: "I'm not thinking about that."

Iwamura said he is typically a slow starter, and it seems to be compounded by the accelerated pace of a major-league training camp. Plus, he is under considerable scrutiny from the Japanese media, who seem to consider the possibility of him being sent to minor-league camp even for a day as big news.

"I've been trying to stay in touch with him to figure out what it takes for him to get ready based on the cultural differences between our camp and the camp he's used to," Maddon said.

"A mechanical issues like (with his swing) is very fixable over time. ... Next year at this time we'll have a benchmark. Right now we have to rely on what he has to say, watch some video, come up with a couple little things. I still have full confidence he will be ready by the beginning of the season."

FIRST AT SECOND? The Rays' plan was to move B.J. Upton around all spring so he would get comfortable at a variety of positions. But his impressive performance at second base raises at least a question if he could end up in competition with incumbent Jorge Cantu and Ty Wigginton to make it his at least semi-regular home.

"So far, it appears to be his most comfortable spot on the infield," Maddon said. "Maybe it's something about the right side of the field defensively, I don't know. He seems to react well over there."

Upton, who came up as a shortstop and was moved to third last year, said he is adapting relatively well. "I'm starting to get more comfortable than I was," he said. "The double play is basically what I've got to get down now." He got a chance to turn one Monday, though he did bounce the throw.

CASEY OKAY: LHP Casey Fossum looked good and felt fine throwing 20 pitches Monday in his first game action of the spring. How Fossum, who had shoulder surgery in September, feels this morning will be even more important as the Rays hope he is ready to start the season as the No. 3 or 4 starter.

"Of course you want to feel good in the game, but you also want to be able to wake up and lift your arm up," he said. "The big thing with any kind of surgery is recovery - 'Am I able to make my next start?' So far, I've been recovering well. There's no reason it shouldn't be like my" batting practice and bullpen sessions.

MISCELLANY: Team officials, Maddon and coaches held a long meeting after Monday's game, a telling indication that the first roster cuts are imminent. ... The Rays lost to Detroit 3-2, dropping to a major-league worst 1-11. Their win was a rain-shortened six-inning game against Toronto on March 3. ... RHP Al Reyes, trying to win a bullpen job, made his first two-inning appearance of the spring and said he felt fine despite giving up a single and a homer.