Chemistry aiding Aki's move to second
Rays shortstop Bartlett proves pivotal in position switch
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- One of the big questions to be answered heading into Spring Training was whether Akinori Iwamura could make a successful transition from third base to second.
Prior to Thursday's Rays-Indians contest at Chain of Lakes Park, Joe Maddon gave two thumbs up to the great experiment. The Rays manager said Iwamura has little left to prove at his new position.
"He's turned double-plays really well. He's gone back for popups," Maddon said. "I've seen him go to the backhand side. [I] haven't really seen him get challenged to the left -- that ball where he has to go out into the outfield. But I think having seen Aki play third base, and making that play going to his left, I don't think it's going to be a problem. Slow rollers, he probably hasn't been challenged on a slow roller, but again, he's so acrobatic and flexible athletically."
Maddon said the biggest concern remains the double play.
"Any time you go from this side to that side, the runner is coming in at your back," Maddon said. "[But] I see him staying in there really well on the double play. I see him throwing really hard and accurately to first."
Maddon added that Iwamura has been equally as sharp on the mental side of playing second, noting he has been in the right place every time on bunts, cutoffs and relays. Maddon also likes the chemistry that has developed between Iwamura and shortstop Jason Bartlett.
"I like what they've done," Maddon said. "[Bartlett] has really helped the transition for Aki by just the way he is, his personality and his character. He's embraced having Aki there. You see it all the time. They're together constantly, and I watch the conversation. They're really cut from the same cloth emotionally. They are both confident young men -- and because of that, they have both hit it off.
"We've been lucky there, because we knew we liked Jason Bartlett as a player. We'd heard good things about him as a guy. But he has almost been like a soul mate to the second baseman we're trying to make in Aki. They really get along well. I think that's going to expedite Aki's learning second base."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.