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Aki ready to tackle shift
By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Published February 18, 2008
Akinori Iwamura, with Raymond, throws out the first pitch at the Venice Little League on Saturday.
[Tampa Bay Rays]
ST. PETERSBURG - Akinori Iwamura reported to Rays camp Sunday acknowledging the move from third base to second will take some work, but confident he can make a smooth transition.
At least as well, he joked, as former teammate Ty Wigginton.
"I'm proud of my play at third base but at the same time if the team needs me to be at second for team reasons, I'm more than welcome to do it," Iwamura said through new interpreter Bori Uchibori. "It's a challenge anyway to me, but I know I can do it. And Wiggy can do it, so I can do it."
Iwamura showed extraordinary defense at third in his rookie season, and the Rays are hoping he can do just as well at second as they make room for the arrival of top prospect Evan Longoria sometime this season.
Iwamura worked at second during the offseason in Japan, taking ground balls starting in November. The issues he has encountered are the expected ones - turning the double play, getting used to being on the other side of the diamond and learning to read balls off the bat.
"Everything's reversed from third base," he said. "That's the only thing I'm concerned about."
Iwamura also will have to quickly get comfortable with new shortstop Jason Bartlett, and get used to covering more ground. He looked to be in good shape and was sporting longer hair, a better grasp of English and a more relaxed attitude than his highly anticipated arrival last February.
"Last year I was real nervous because I didn't know anybody and I didn't know anything about the team," he said. "This year I know what to expect."
Another difference was the absence Sunday of the large pack of Japanese media who chronicled his arrival. Noting they probably wouldn't be following him given the number of new Japanese stars in the majors, Iwamura joked, in English, "It's no problem. I don't need the Japanese media. I have U.S. (media), okay?"
NAVI UPDATE: C Dioner Navarro was on his way back to Tampa from Venezuela on Sunday and is expected to be in camp today, agent Kendall Almerico said. Navarro has been attending to his mother, Rosa, who remains hospitalized in intensive care after a brain aneurysm.
MISCELLANY: The Rays expect an update today on the status of RHP Juan Salas, who is delayed by visa problems in the Dominican Republic. ... Players on the 40-man roster took their first drug tests. ... OF Chris Richard arrived, reducing to nine the number of position players who have not checked in in advance of Tuesday's reporting deadline: OFs Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Jon Weber; 1B Carlos Pena; and INFs Willy Aybar, Andy Cannizaro, Joel Guzman and Elliot Johnson.