The Rays feel comfortable having Willy Aybar, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist available to play second base. But they can only hope one, or all, can effectively replace Akinori Iwamura, who will miss the rest of the season as a result of the left knee injury sustained Sunday.
Iwamura has a torn anterior cruciate ligament, requiring surgery and a six-month recovery, plus damage to the medial collateral ligament and torn ankle ligaments that will need time to heal.
"A tough loss, obviously," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "Huge," third baseman Evan Longoria said.
"We're going to miss him," manager Joe Maddon said. "He was probably playing as well as I've seen him. I mean overall game — offense, defense, his comfort with us, his baserunning — everything has gotten better. He was playing at a very high level."
Although the Rays have depth, they don't have experience: None of the three replacements is a natural second baseman. Aybar made his 19th big-league start there Monday, Zobrist has made eight, and Brignac began playing there in spring training.
Maddon said he plans to use all three, but shortstop Jason Bartlett, noting how he and Iwamura had grown to "become one" on the field, said a platoon system could be challenging.
"That's going to be tough, not just for myself but for the pitchers as well, knowing the guy," Bartlett said. "Whoever is out there we have to make do, do our best. … I'm sure Joe will play the hot hand, and hopefully one of the guys will step up and take control of the position."
The Rays showed a resiliency last season when several of their key players — including Carl Crawford and Longoria — were injured, and they are hoping to tap into that again.
"Whoever fills that role is going to have to step up, and the guys who have been playing every day are going to have to play a little better or figure out a way to do something more to help the ballclub," Longoria said. "The challenge is there; we just can't start to put too much pressure on ourselves right now. We just have to try to think back to last year and what we did, and go on from there."
Florida's Chris Coghlan, the East Lake High product who caused the injury when he slid in hard with his body as Iwamura tried to turn a double play started by pitcher Dan Wheeler, maintained that he wasn't trying to hurt Iwamura and that he didn't do anything "illegal."
"I just went in and unfortunately hit him in a bad spot," Coghlan told the Sun-Sentinel. "He was caught in an awkward situation with the ball coming from the pitcher. He caught it in front of the bag and took a short step toward me, which made me get on him a little quicker than he was probably expecting. I slid hard and unfortunately that happened. You never want that to happen. I told him I'd be praying for him. I wish him as soon a recovery as he can have."
Iwamura, 30, should be recovered by spring training, but he may not be back with the Rays. They hold a $4.85 million option for 2010 (with a $550,000 buyout), and if they decline it, Iwamura becomes a free agent.
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]