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Rays' Iwamura hitting too well to rest

OAKLAND, Calif. — Akinori Iwamura has been too hot to get a day off.

Manager Joe Maddon has several times postponed a planned day off for Iwamura, who has been the American League's most prolific hitter in May.

Iwamura's 28 hits (going into play Monday) were the most of any AL hitter, trailing only Lance Berkman's major-league-leading 35 for Houston.

"He's really hitting the ball well right now," Maddon said. "When he gets hot, he gets super hot. And he's kind of there right now."

The issue with Iwamura has been getting him to hit the ball in the air less and on the ground or on a line more. And the message has gotten through.

"Line drives everywhere," Maddon said. "Hard, two-strike line drives, not just putting the ball in play."

As if the stats weren't proof enough, Maddon said he can tell just by watching that Iwamura — who raised his average from .202 to .276 in three weeks (hitting .382, 28-for-72, in 16 games) — is on his game.

"There's a lot of confidence," he said. "There's just a bounce in his step. I know he's feeling good about it."

Going into the final 10 games of the month, Iwamura needs 12 hits to break the Rays team record of 36, by Fred McGriff in 1999.

And, Maddon said, he might get Wednesday off.

Glove love: Rookie 3B Evan Longoria has had some struggles at the plate, which makes his strong defensive showing even more impressive.

Going into play Monday, Longoria led all AL third basemen with a .979 fielding percentage, having made just two errors in 96 chances. He ranks second with a hand in nine double plays (despite missing the first 10 games) and is in the top five in the sabermetric categories of range factor and zone rating.

Feeling better: SS Jason Bartlett was back in the lineup after missing Sunday's game due to effects of a 24-hour flulike bug that had been going through the clubhouse. Most of the coaches had it, but Bartlett was the only player. "We might be past the worst part of it," Maddon said. "I've heard nothing new."

J.P. duty: LHP J.P. Howell has been in the majors for parts of four seasons, but this is the first time he has gotten to play in Oakland, about 90 minutes from where he grew up outside Sacramento. "Three times I've got sent down right before we came out here," Howell said.

He'll have friends and relatives on hand all three days, but none more special than his grandmother. Margaret Olbrantz turned 85 on Monday but will wait to attend Wednesday's matinee. "The other games are way past her bedtime," Howell said.

Go-go Gomes: Jonny Gomes is in line for his first back-to-back starts since May 1-2 and said a better understanding of his limited role will allow him to have a better approach.

"I can't do it like these are my only four at-bats of the week like I did earlier in the year, swinging at 3-0 pitches, swinging hard in hitters' counts instead of letting myself get deep (in the count) and take my walks and be patient," he said. "It's kinda hard knowing those might be the last four at-bats for a while, so you want to hit a home run every at-bat."

Maddon said Gomes would play tonight and Wednesday and could be in rightfield one day with Cliff Floyd at DH.

Miscellany: INF Andy Cannizaro cleared waivers and rejoined Triple-A Durham. … Maddon said before Monday's game that he was trying to find an opportunity to use long reliever Jason Hammel, who hadn't pitched in 10 days since May 7. … The Rays' .360 average in the St. Louis series was the highest of any AL club. … Maddon was thrilled that he got to meet Cardinals great Stan Musial before Sunday's festivities in St. Louis: "Obviously a legend beyond words."

Rays' Iwamura hitting too well to rest 05/19/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:05pm]
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