LAKELAND — The two heart-shaped balloons at Akinori Iwamura's locker that read "Cutie Pie" and "Only You" were a joke, but the Rays seemed genuinely excited Thursday to see their second baseman for the first time this spring.
And the feeling appeared mutual, as Iwamura said he was excited to try to get the Rays back to the World Series and willing to do whatever is necessary.
And if that includes, as expected, moving from leadoff to eighth or ninth in the batting order, that's okay, too.
"I haven't talked to (manager) Joe (Maddon) yet, so I don't know what's going to happen, but I have no objection at all," Iwamura said through interpreter Bori Uchibori. "I understand what he's feeling, and that's what I've got in my mind.''
He played a big role as Japan won the World Baseball Classic, hitting .286 in nine games with key hits in the semifinal and final. And it just whetted his appetite.
"Last year we made the World Series but unfortunately couldn't make it all the way through,'' he said. "This year I have a chance to get two world championships — one is completed and one more is left right now, and hopefully we can make it through.''
Iwamura is scheduled to make his first Rays appearance today in Fort Myers.
Moved on: Ex-Ray RHP Edwin Jackson, acquired by the Tigers in the offseason trade for OF Matt Joyce, believes he's in a "good situation" in Detroit, where he has already found a new home (in the suburb of Royal Oak). "It's a good group of guys, and everyone has high expectations."
"He looks to me like a power-arm guy that's getting better all the time," manager Jim Leyland said. "He should give us innings, some quality innings. He's got some great stuff, no question about that."
UPTON UPDATE: CF B.J. Upton, recovering from shoulder surgery, walked twice, got an infield hit and stole two bases in a minor-league game Thursday.
He avoided any serious problems — such as Saturday when he was hit by a pitch on the left hand and needed X-rays — though he was struck on the leg by a thrown ball on his infield hit. "I'm just a magnet,'' he joked.
GAME DETAILS: Though he gave up four runs (and two homers) in a 6-3 loss to Detroit, RHP Andy Sonnanstine was pleased with the progression of his changeup. He was just a little off on location. "I feel ecstatic the way my body is feeling right now," he said. "Just sharpen up a couple pitches and we'll be ready to go."… Maddon said Adam Kennedy did fine in his start in leftfield, and C Dioner Navarro went 3-for-4.
IN CLOSING: Troy Percival said he felt good after pitching in back-to-back games for the first time this spring. Though he gave up his first hit and runs in his six outings — a two-run triple by Will Rhymes after two walks in the eighth — the right-hander said his spring is "still perfect because I came through it unscathed (physically)."
MISCELLANY: OF Justin Ruggiano, sent down unexpectedly Wednesday, said via text message he was disappointed after being demoted and, "I'm going to stay ready in case the opportunity arises where they do call on me.''… Pat Burrell and Carl Crawford are among the regulars slated to play today against the Twins.