Slump-ridden Iwamura finds relief

Rays 3B Akinori Iwamura was all smiles after doubling in the winning run in an 8-3 victory Friday against the Pirates at Progress Energy Park.

Published March 17, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Rays 3B Akinori Iwamura was all smiles after doubling in the winning run in an 8-3 victory Friday against the Pirates at Progress Energy Park.

He also doubled the number of hits he has in the spring.

Iwamura had been in a 1-for-22 slump before driving the ball to centerfield in the bottom of the sixth inning, his final at-bat of the game. 2B Jorge Cantu scored for a 3-2 lead as Iwamura got his second RBI of the spring.

"Even if that was a line drive to the second baseman, it was something that gives me a clue how to improve," Iwamura said. "I want to hit in the winning run during the regular season. It feels good."

UNION TALK: Donald Fehr, head of the players association, met with the team for about 90 minutes in the morning to review the recent labor agreement. For the first time in nearly 40 years, a deal was reached before the previous deal expired.

"It makes these meetings a lot more serene," Fehr said.

Veteran C Josh Paul, the Rays' player representative, said the meeting targeted the team's young players.

"It was educational because we have a lot of young guys," Paul said. "It's important for our union to get younger guys involved. Our guys are interested in seeing how it works and becoming involved."

KEEPING WATCH: Fehr said the players association will continue to monitor teams, such as the Rays, who spend less on payroll than they receive in revenue sharing. This year, revenue sharing is reportedly $35-million per team, while the Rays' payroll is about $24-million.

"In this last agreement, we clarified that if we feel the revenue sharing money is not being utilized appropriately to improve the quality of the team on the field ... we'll take a hard look at that.

"But I'm encouraged about this area. It seems to me one of these days the right combination is going to click, and you're going to see this take off as a baseball market the way you saw Seattle or San Francisco or Atlanta or Cleveland or a lot of the other baseball-can-never-succeed markets where it has turned around."

As for realignment or a balanced schedule, either of which might help the small-market Rays compete, Fehr is aware of no immediate plans.

"I don't want to say never," he said. "I do want to say I don't think it's being contemplated in the short term."

DECADE PATCH: The Rays will wear a patch on the right shoulder of their uniforms for selected games this season commemorating the franchise's 10th major-league season. The patch will be worn on the full-sleeved jersey tops, their alternate green home jerseys and gray road tops. The logo also will appear on various promotional items, including a 10th anniversary cowbell to be given to the first 10,000 fans attending the Rays-Yankees game April 23 at Tropicana Field.

MISCELLANY: Starter James Shields pitched five innings, allowing two earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts. His spring ERA is 2.25. ... Attendance was 3,503.

Joanne Korth can be reached at korth@sptimes.com or 727 893-8810.