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Chat helps Aki fix leadoff priorities
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published August 16, 2007
Tampa Bay Devil Rays third baseman Akinori Iwamura cannot handle a bunt single by Boston Red Sox Coco Crisp in the ninth inning of their baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston.
BOSTON - The Rays appear dedicated to keeping Akinori Iwamura as their leadoff hitter, but with the third baseman entering Wednesday's game hitless in his past 15 at-bats - a slump that has coincided with the team's offensive drought - Iwamura found himself summoned into manager Joe Maddon's office to meet with Maddon and hitting coach Steve Henderson before the Rays' 6-5 win over Boston.
The conversation focused on having more patient at-bats, a key to batting leadoff. Iwamura's average in the top spot had dipped to .262 (66-for-252), while he has hit .362 elsewhere in the order. For Iwamura, who hit third in Japan, it has been a sometimes difficult transition.
However, the meeting seemed to revive Iwamura, who broke out of his slump with two hits and two runs off familiar foe Daisuke Matsuzaka plus two walks in five plate appearances. Iwamura's hits off Matsuzaka fueled one run in the first and a four-run rally in the fourth.
"Because of that conversation before the game, I had two walks," Iwamura said through translator Masa Koyanagi. "I was able to watch more balls and be patient. As a leadoff hitter, I need to be getting on base no matter what. ... I understood totally what they were telling me, the mind-set of a leadoff hitter."
Iwamura's numbers with runners in scoring position (6-for-49, .176) and his low RBI total (his 16 rank ninth on the team) still leave something to be desired, but Maddon said if Iwamura can embrace the plate discipline of a leadoff hitter, the Rays lineup will thrive.
"He kept the ball out of the air, good line drives," Maddon said. "Today was a great example, I think, of what he can do as a leadoff hitter when he's a little more patient and stays out of the air, and he works the count."
NUMBER CRUNCHING: With a 2-for-5 afternoon, LF Carl Crawford tied his own team record for hits on a road trip with 19.
Crawford, who hit .432 (19-for-44) on the 10-game road trip to Detroit, Texas and Boston, also tallied 19 hits during a 10-game trip from May 22 to June 1 of last year.
But Crawford didn't necessarily want to hear about the record.
"I think we should just play to the end, and in the end when it's done then you look and see what you did," Crawford said. "Some guys watch it every day. I'm not. I've always been like that.
"The only stat I keep up with is the home run stat."
Crawford is batting .484 (30-for-62) in August and has 10 multihit games in 14 games this month.
PLAYING PAPI: Maddon is the innovator of the unconventional 3-4 defense - a heavy pull shift that leaves the entire left side of the infield unoccupied and uses the third baseman as a fourth outfielder, which the Rays have used on Boston DH David Ortiz with no runners on - but he has been forced to abandon the shift.
"He's just a different hitter," Maddon said. "It is just an entirely different chart than last year. It just seems like he might have changed his swing patterns a little bit this year."
MISCELLANY: Injured Triple-A Durham RHP Jeff Niemann (right shoulder tightness) threw 53 pitches in a simulated game Wednesday and is slated to make his return from the DL and pitch Tuesday. ... 1B Carlos Pena drove in the Rays' first three runs after entering the day hitless in his past 11 at-bats and 1-for-19 in his past six games.