Quick-healing Iwamura days from return

Published May 24, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays 3B Akinori Iwamura made a special visit to Tropicana Field on Wednesday. If all goes well, he soon will make the trip on a regular basis.

Iwamura has been on the 15-day disabled list for a month with a strained abdominal muscle. With his rehab ahead of schedule, Iwamura met with manager Joe Maddon about the possibility of rejoining the team next week, possibly Monday.

"Aki is doing very well," Maddon said. "He had a really good day."

Playing five innings in an extended spring training game at the Naimoli Complex on Wednesday, Iwamura reached base three times on a single and two walks. He stole a base, ran from first to third and made a difficult fielding play.

The best part: He felt no pain.

Iwamura's steady progress the past 10 days could allow him to skip a minor-league rehab assignment. He will play in games at the Naimoli Complex through Saturday, at which point the team will evaluate his condition.

"All things going well, without any setbacks, he might be ready to play against Detroit on Monday," Maddon said. "As long as he feels his timing is still there regarding hitting and there's no pain, I'd be okay with that. ... We're really trying to avoid the setback, but he hasn't felt any kind of pulling sensation in his side."

The Japanese-born Iwamura, 29, was off to a hot start in his first major-league season, hitting .339 when he strained his right oblique April 23 during an at-bat against the Yankees.

WHAT ABOUT PENA? Iwamura's return would allow Ty Wigginton to return to first base, where Carlos Pena has filled in with a steady glove and hot bat. Pena, who has hit safely in nine straight games, leads the team with nine home runs and a .312 average after Wednesday's 2-for-4 effort. Maddon indicated he will find a place for Pena.

"I have different ideas regarding that, and we'll see how the whole week shakes out," Maddon said. "But Carlos Pena is going to continue to play a lot."

CALLING ALL CATCHERS: The Rays will call up C Shawn Riggans from Triple-A Durham today, the first day he is eligible to come off the seven-day disabled list. Josh Paul hyperextended his left elbow Saturday and likely will go on the DL.

LINEUP SHAKEUP: The absence of CF Elijah Dukes created a domino effect on the lineup. B.J. Upton took over as the leadoff hitter and in centerfield, both positions vacated by Dukes. Wigginton was at second base and Josh Wilson at third.

Upton's leadoff homer, the first of his career, traveled an estimated 433 feet to leftfield, the fourth-longest home run of the season at Tropicana Field.

SWEEPS MONTH: The Rays have lost six straight at Tropicana Field for the first time since June 2005. Today, they will try to avoid being swept in consecutive home series for the second time in the past eight years. In 2005, they lost consecutive three-game series to the Cardinals (June 17-19) and Marlins (June 24-26).

MILESTONE LOSSES: Wednesday marked the 1,500th game in franchise history. The Rays also lost games Nos. 1, 1,000 and 1,500.