TORONTO - The Devil Rays aren't scheduled to take batting practice or infield before the final game of the season today, but one player will be doing some pregame work.
Akinori Iwamura will make his first career regular-season start at second base today, and he already has asked infield coach Tom Foley to hit him some grounders this morning. Foley also is responsible for positioning the Rays' infielders during the game.
'I told him that today he's going to be busy,' Iwamura said through his interpreter.
Manager Joe Maddon asked Iwamura before Saturday's game if he was willing to give second a try and the veteran said he would. There's a good chance Iwamura will end up at that position next year, with top prospect Evan Longoria expected to take over third base at some point.
'He was very excited about it, actually. He wanted to do it, so that was kind of interesting,' Maddon said. 'I think it's primarily that Aki's such a good team guy and I think he likes the challenge of trying something new and different.'
Longoria, last year's top draft pick, is much more in the mold of a traditional third baseman. A power hitter with a bigger body, the 21-year-old will add punch to the lineup that Iwamura didn't provide. Iwamura's bat should be a better value at second base, where run production isn't at a premium, and the Rays believe he'll be fine there defensively.
After a full winter of practice, Iwamura figures to be more confident playing second than he will today. Iwamura said he isn't worried about potentially turning double plays as much as he is the most basic aspects of the job.
'Normal, routine positioning is difficult for me because this is the first time,' he said. 'I have some degree of anxiety.'
FINISHING STRONG: RHP Edwin Jackson wrapped up his season Saturday with a 5-15 record and 5.76 ERA, but he was a markedly better pitcher in the second half. He was 1-9 with a 7.23 ERA heading into the All-Star break and 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA afterward.
The biggest difference?
'Learning from the first half,' he said. 'I struggled and I took a lot from it to be able to come back in the second half and build on it. I just had to teach myself how to get out of the jams when things start to tumble down on me. There's still a couple games where I didn't do it, but for the most part when I got in jams I found a way to get out of it.'
LOOKING AHEAD: The Rays plan to release a tentative 2008 schedule this week, but several others already have unveiled their home slates.
Among the Rays' road trips that can be culled from the information already out there: Tampa Bay once again will visit the Rangers twice, June 6-8 and Aug. 15-17. The Rays will play at Kansas City from July 24-27, at the White Sox from Aug. 22-24 and at Detroit from Sept. 25-28. Tampa Bay's annual interleague series at Florida is June 24-26.
DID YOU KNOW? Carlos Pena walked three times Saturday to give him 102 for the season. He's the 11th player in AL history to reach 100 walks, 45 homers and 120 RBIs in a season. The others: Babe Ruth, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, David Ortiz, Lou Gehrig, Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew, Rafael Palmeiro and Rocky Colavito.
WINTER BALL: Maddon was aware of only two current Rays planning to play winter ball - both in the Dominican Republic. IF Joel Guzman will play for the Estrellas Orientales and RHP Juan Salas will pitch for the Aguilas Cibaenas.