ST. PETERSBURG — If second baseman Akinori Iwamura has his way, he'll be back in a Rays uniform next year, once he has recovered from his season-ending knee injury.
Iwamura made that clear Friday afternoon in a news conference at Tropicana Field, where he fielded an array of questions, including about his future with the Rays (who hold a $4.85 million option on his contract in 2010), the progress of his rehabilitation and his thoughts about the hard slide by the Marlins' Chris Coghlan that resulted in a torn left anterior cruciate ligament Sunday.
"I'd like to express my feeling that it hurts me a lot, not only physically but mentally, that I cannot play in the field and I cannot contribute to the team," he said through interpreter Tateki Uchibori.
"But next year, I promise that I will be back for the fans, and hopefully everything works out on my side. And I'd like to get back on the field as soon as possible. It's a disappointment for me at this point, but hopefully I'll get back and show you some quality baseball."
Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay's executive vice president of baseball operations, underscored Iwamura's importance.
"Our focus right now is getting him healthy and on the (remainder of the) 2009 season," he said. "I think it goes without saying that Aki means a tremendous amount to this organization both on the field and off. And so that's something we'll address when we get to the offseason."
Iwamura said he knew the injury was serious immediately: "It was the most painful moment in my 13 years of baseball. And I knew something was wrong. It kind of surprised me when it happened."
Coghlan, an East Lake High product, slid into Iwamura, who had touched second and was to the right of the base trying to complete a routine double play. Having reviewed video, Iwamura said, "Hopefully this kind of stuff doesn't happen to any other players. And I have nothing to say to Mr. Coghlan."
Iwamura said he could not have avoided the collision if he wanted to complete the double play. "That is the way I play baseball."
Iwamura, 30, is in the final year of his contract, and the hefty option raises uncertainty about his future with the club. Asked about that, he replied, "I have no control over it, and everything is in the hands of the team. But I hope everything works out."
For now, his focus is on healing. He needs to wait for ligament swelling to subside. That could take four to six weeks, followed by surgery scheduled to be performed by Dr. Koco Eaton and a six-month recovery.
"Obviously, I get a lot of help from my family, and my teammates give me great support, too," Iwamura said. "Mentally, I'm prepared for this long rehab. And I feel a lot of the voices from the Rays fans and my fans in Japan. And they are hoping for me to recover as soon as possible. So that kind of support really helps me."