tampabay.com

Iwamura to lead off in return

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published June 8, 2007


TORONTO -- With 3B Akinori Iwamura expected back in the Devil Rays' lineup against the Marlins after missing five games with an eye injury, manager Joe Maddon plans to keep him in the leadoff spot tonight.

"I want to try it out again," Maddon said after the Rays' 5-3 win over Toronto on Thursday at Rogers Centre. "I want to take it for a test spin."

2B B.J. Upton has hit in the leadoff spot the past two nights, with slumping CF Elijah Dukes bumped to second Thursday. With Iwamura leading off, Upton will move back to second, and Dukes, now hitting .195, will bat seventh or eighth.

Iwamura hit leadoff Saturday, going 2-for-4 and raising his average to .370 before being forced from the game when he was hit in the left eye with a foul popup.

SECOND TIME AROUND: LHP J.P. Howell hopes to duplicate his Tampa Bay debut Sunday against the Royals, when he held his former team to one run over eight innings.

"I just want to keep riding that wave and just try to tack another one on," Howell said. "I want to do the same thing, just attack them, a lot of strikes, mix it up a lot and try to get a good read of what they do," Howell said. "Pay attention to every pitch."

Maddon said the key to Sunday's performance was how Howell worked both sides of the plate while supplementing his fastball and changeup with a curveball and cutter. He displayed excellent control, striking out five and walking none.

"Now I know I can do it, and I know I can get out of tough situations," Howell said. "That's what I want to take from that, but at the same time, that stuff is over. It's time to move on."

NORTON IN LEFT: Wanting to give LF Carl Crawford a day off from playing in the field, Maddon started Greg Norton in left Thursday, allowing Crawford to be the designated hitter.

"He's been working there the past two days, and he's ready to go, " Maddon said. "It allows us to get all the bats in the lineup. My biggest concern was whether he could do that with his knee."

When the Rays had pregame cutoff and relay drills last week, Norton decided to go to left because there were three players -- Carlos Pena, Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu -- doing fundamental drills at first. That led to Norton's season debut there, despite the fact that he hadn't taken a fly ball in a game since August when Delmon Young took over in rightfield.

"I just want to get that first ball out of the way," said Norton, who had no balls hit his way in eight innings. "I told Dukes he has left-center and I've got the line."

FIRST HACKS: With the Rays opening their first series in an NL park tonight, the Tampa Bay pitchers -- who have been taking early batting practice the past three weeks -- will have their first go in the batter's box.

Rays pitchers were 3-for-18 last season, with RHP James Shields recording all three hits and batting .375 (3-for-8).

"These other guys are hitting bombs," Howell said. "I'm hitting for average, just singles and stolen bases."

MISCELLANY: Triple-A Durham RHP Mitch Talbot pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday, allowing five hits in a 2-0 win over Ottawa. ... Class-A Vero Beach RHP Wade Davis threw seven innings of two-hit ball Wednesday, striking out eight and walking one.