2B shift in works for Iwamura

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 27, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - It's not a pressing issue for the Devil Rays, but with highly touted prospect 3B Evan Longoria quickly moving through the minor leagues, the organization will eventually have to find a place for him - maybe sooner than later.

That likely means a position shift for current 3B Akinori Iwamura, who has had a stellar year defensively in his first year in the major leagues. Longoria, the Rays' first-round pick in 2006 who is hitting a combined .304 with 25 homers and 95 RBIs between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, seems to be firmly planted at third.

"Longoria is going to be the third baseman, so you eventually have to do something, but now's not the time, not yet," manager Joe Maddon said. "You're always thinking about that, but yeah, that's an offseason discussion."

That would likely signal Iwamura's move to the middle infield. Iwamura said he played "a couple games" at second base in the minors in Japan while rehabbing a wrist injury. Maddon said second base is Iwamura's most likely landing spot.

"He's a little more of a middle infielder on the corner right now," Maddon said. "Just from what I'm seeing, the assumption is second base. When you make assumptions like that, that's something you'd want to see. You look at his arm strength and that's probably more applicable to second base, although his athleticism and range could play at shortstop."

Iwamura said he's open to the change.

"There's no position I've never played," he said through interpreter Masa Koyanagi. "I played somewhere sometime during my baseball career, so if Joe asks, I'll try it. Everything comes down from Joe."

For now, Maddon likes the continuity of having Iwamura at third during his first season in the United States, so it's unlikely he would make spot starts at second or third this season when 2B Brendan Harris or SS Josh Wilson needs an off day.

BARNSTORMING: Sunday marked the first of three games in three different cities for the Rays. After Sunday's game, they flew to Chicago to make up their rained-out game from May 25, then they fly to Baltimore to open a three-game series there.

But Maddon has seen worse. As bench coach for the Angels in 2005, the Angels won Game 4 of the AL Division Series in New York, flew home to Anaheim to win the series, then flew to Chicago for Game 1 of the ALCS on consecutive days Oct. 9-11. The Angels won all three games but ended up losing to the White Sox, four games to one.

Maddon said he will hold abbreviated batting practice for today's 2:10 start in Chicago, a rarity for day games.

"I'm going to utilize the old minor-league mind-set, and that is when you travel and there is some sense of fatigue, you'd rather push them on that particular morning and get the blood flowing," Maddon said. "I want to keep the energy involved."

MISCELLANY: The Rays are 22-19 in series finales. ... They won the season series with Oakland, 6-4, for just the second time in nine years. ... DH Jonny Gomes batted leadoff for the second time in his career and is 3-for-5 in those games. ... At 37 years, four months, Al Reyes became the third-oldest player to record his first 20-save season. ... RHP Scott Dohmann has gone 152/3 innings without allowing an earned run. ... CF Rocco Baldelli will see doctors today about the general soreness he felt during his rehab assignment in Class A Vero Beach.