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5 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Melissa Segura
March 26, 2007
MANAGER JOE MADDON second season with Devil Rays
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March 26, 2007

5 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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ROCCO BALDELLI CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 78 .302 16 57 10
CARL CRAWFORD LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 5 .305 18 77 58
DELMON YOUNG (R) RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 66 .317 3 10 2
TY WIGGINTON 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 84 .275 24 79 4
JORGE CANTU 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 187 .249 14 62 1
JONNY GOMES DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 180 .216 20 59 1
AKINORI IWAMURA (R)*

Japanese Central League stats

3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 127 .311 32 77 8
DIONER NAVARRO C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 274 .254 6 28 2
BEN ZOBRIST SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 271 .224 2 18 2

MANAGER JOE MADDON second season with Devil Rays

THE DEVIL RAYS made sure that Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura wouldn't get lost or be late during his first spring training in the U.S. They placed him in a hotel across the street from the team's camp in St. Petersburg, and hired an interpreter to guarantee that he got to the right place at the right time. Now the club hopes the five-time Japanese Central League All-Star can help Tampa Bay find its way out of the AL East cellar.

Though he is not a seasoned major leaguer, the 28-year-old Iwamura is a baseball Yoda in a lineup that has only one other position player older than 25 (first baseman Ty Wiggington, who's 29). In nine seasons in Japan the 5'9", 176-pound Iwamura hit .300 with 188 home runs and 570 RBIs. His consistency at the plate is the most valuable asset he brings to a team that, with outfielders Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and highly regarded rookie Delmon Young, is already loaded with power and speed--only 11 teams in major league history have surpassed the Devils Rays' 2006 totals of 190 home runs and 134 steals in the same season.

As an added bonus Iwamura, known as Top Gun back home because of his arm strength, was a six-time Gold Glove winner in Japan who will upgrade the left side of an infield that committed a league-leading 55 errors last year.

Reaching across the Pacific for talent-- Tampa Bay signed Iwamura to a three-year, $7.7 million contract after paying the Yakult Swallows $4.55 million for his negotiating rights--is the latest strategy in the club's bid to crack .500. In each of the franchise's 10 years, it has finished with a losing record. In 2006 the Devil Rays ranked last in the majors in winning percentage (.377, with a 61--101 record), runs (689), batting average with runners in scoring position (.240) and on-base percentage (.314).

Yet the team's biggest weakness is the pitching staff, which surrendered the second-most hits (1,600) and had the fourth-worst ERA (4.96) in the majors. Lefthander Scott Kazmir won 10 of 24 starts, and the rest of the rotation won 26 of 138. At least lefthander Casey Fossum looks healthy coming off shoulder surgery last September, and 25-year-old righthander James Shields shows promise. Tampa Bay relievers had the league's third-highest ERA (4.94) and the highest batting average against (.295) last year. The bullpen was one area "we'd hoped to address this winter," says executive vice president Andrew Friedman, "but it didn't quite work out."

But second-year manager Joe Maddon says he already sees progress being made in Tampa Bay, which became the first team in major league history to have a winning record at home (41--40) and still lose more than 100 games. "The biggest difference is a higher level of confidence and calmness," says Maddon, who is the person most responsible for that change in atmosphere. He has transformed the clubhouse into a classroom, encouraging player-taught workshops-- Crawford, who has led the league in stolen bases for three of the last four seasons has shared his expertise on reading pitchers and taking a lead--and pounding home the need for players to always be thinking about the game. The manager has ordered T-shirts that read tell me what you think not what you've heard. "Corny becomes popular once you start winning," Maddon says.

Last week, feeling more comfortable in his new surroundings, Iwamura moved out of the hotel and into a town house that's 15 minutes away from Tampa Bay's spring training complex. Now the question is, Are the Devil Rays ready to move on too?

CONSIDER THIS

a modest proposal ...

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