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Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett forced to work without DP partner Akinori Iwamura because of World Baseball Classic

PORT CHARLOTTE — Last spring, then-new SS Jason Bartlett spent as much time as possible on the field and in the clubhouse with then-new 2B Akinori Iwamura, trying to build their relationship and ease their transitions, and it seemed to pay off well.

They can't hang out much this spring because Iwamura is still in Japan, preparing for the World Baseball Classic. If his team reaches the finals, he may not join the Rays until the final week of exhibitions, around March 24.

"It's different," Bartlett said. "He's an important piece as far as the bunt defense, first-and-third (plays), everything. There's some things, and especially with Aki not speaking English very well, when he gets back he's going to have to go through that all again. It may take him a week or so."

Iwamura, who batted ninth and played second for Japan in two weekend exhibitions and hit a three-run homer (but also made two errors) Sunday, has the advantage this spring of knowing his responsibilities at second. Last spring, he was moving there from third.

When Iwamura does arrive, Bartlett said, "we'll just want to get out there and take some ground balls together probably for a few days and we should be good."

With Iwamura away, backup Willy Aybar, plus Elliot Johnson and nonroster invitee Adam Kennedy, will fill in.

The only other Ray expected to participate is LH reliever J.P. Howell, for Team USA. Because of that, he is on a more accelerated schedule than the other returning pitchers, whose workload is being limited early.

Howell threw live batting practice Sunday, the only pitcher who appeared in the postseason to do so, and will work in two exhibitions (including Wednesday's opener) before reporting to Team USA camp in Clearwater March 1.

3B Evan Longoria said he hasn't heard anything recently from Team USA officials and does not expect to be included when final rosters are announced Tuesday.

OPEN HOUSE: The Rays will conduct part of this morning's workout on the stadium field to highlight the 10 a.m. open house that includes stadium tours, grand opening of the team store and autograph signings.

Manager Joe Maddon said it also will be good for players to try out the infield dirt and hitter's background, and to check on things such as the height of the sprinkler heads, before Wednesday.

"I want them to get on the field so that if there are any problems with it, we could find those out more than anything," he said.

MEDICAL MATTERS: New OF Matt Joyce sat out Sunday's workout and may miss a few more days to a right calf strain, but said: "I don't think it's anything to really be worried about." … 1B Carlos Peña, recovering well from Jan. 8 abdominal muscle surgery, won't play Wednesday but Maddon said "he's not going to be much further down the road." … CF B.J Upton hit in the batting cages and said his surgically repaired left shoulder continues to feel good.

MISCELLANY: RHP Jason Isringhausen will throw his first bullpen session today since signing with the Rays. RHP Troy Percival will also throw. … RHP Wade Davis will start Thursday against the Yankees, RHP Jeff Niemann Friday against the Red Sox. … Veteran position players will be used in home exhibitions early on, younger players on the road.

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett forced to work without DP partner Akinori Iwamura because of World Baseball Classic 02/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 7:58am]

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