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Akinori Iwamura upbeat over being dropped from leadoff spot by Tampa Bay Rays

STILL A FAN FAVORITE: Phillies fans give Rays DH Pat Burrell a standing ovation after the former Philadelphia leftfielder homered to lead off the exhibition game.

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STILL A FAN FAVORITE: Phillies fans give Rays DH Pat Burrell a standing ovation after the former Philadelphia leftfielder homered to lead off the exhibition game.

PHILADELPHIA — 2B Akinori Iwamura said he won't be down after getting the official word he is being dropped in the lineup.

Manager Joe Maddon met with Iwamura on Saturday morning and explained his reasoning: With Pat Burrell in the middle of the lineup, they want to put B.J. Upton to the top.

Iwamura, the primary leadoff hitter the past two seasons, will join Jason Bartlett at the bottom; Iwamura, a lefty swinger, will hit eighth against right-handers and Bartlett ninth, flipping against left-handers.

"It's a positive step for me," Iwamura said through interpreter Bori Uchibori. "My first year there was a transition from Japanese baseball to American baseball, my second year from third base to second. Now it's another challenge for me. … It's an honor to be challenged again."

Iwamura said he expected the move and said he wants to do whatever he can to help the team win. Maddon wanted to make sure he took it properly.

"The point I wanted to make to him most clearly is that it's not a demotion," Maddon said. "The presence of Pat in our lineup permits us to do other things whereas B.J. now can be a leadoff hitter. In the past we relied on him to be more a middle of the batting order kind of guy. B.J. has speed and power. B.J. normally gets on base at a 40 percent clip, which really sets up our other people."

Maddon confirmed that with Upton out, Matt Joyce would be the centerfielder and likely No. 6 hitter against right-handed pitchers, including Monday's opener against Boston's Josh Beckett.

Against lefties, he'll use Gabe Kapler and Ben Zobrist in center and right, but he still hadn't decided who would be where. "That is almost a flip of the coin kind of thing," he said.

HAMMEL FOR, UH, A-ROD? Nothing will be official until sometime between this morning's minor-league intrasquad games in Port Charlotte and the 3 p.m. roster deadline, but it looks as if the Rays will settle their pitching staff by making Jeff Niemann the fifth starter and Lance Cormier the long reliever and trading Jason Hammel to Colorado.

If so, the Rays would get back Aneury Rodriguez, 21, a hard-throwing Double-A starter ranked by Baseball America as Colorado's 16th-best prospect.

The Rockies have been interested in Hammel and reportedly want to see him throw this morning before working out final details. Insidetherockies.com reported the team needs to clear roster space so Hammel first may be designated for assignment.

THAT'S A WRAP: The Rays completed spring training with a 15-16-1 record after Saturday's 9-7 win over the Phillies. Burrell (batting leadoff) and Carlos Peña hit first-inning homers off Cole Hamels, and No. 3 starter Matt Garza, working primarily on his changeup, said he felt good throwing 75 pitches in four innings despite allowing two-run homers to Raul Ibanez and Greg Dobbs in a three-batter span in the fourth. "I'm ready," Garza said.

MINOR MATTERS: Top 2008 draft pick SS Tim Beckham will open the season with Class A Bowling Green (Ky.), and OF Desmond Jennings and RHP Eddie Morlan will start at Double-A Montgomery. (See blogs.tambabay.com/rays for the full minor-league rosters.) … Upton went 1-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base in a minor-league exhibition.

Akinori Iwamura upbeat over being dropped from leadoff spot by Tampa Bay Rays 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 9:43pm]
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