TORONTO - Akinori Iwamura came up with an analogy to describe how he felt playing second base for the first time in a regular-season game Sunday after spending his entire professional career at third base.
'If you were a track runner, it's like long-distance running and short-distance running - that much different,' he said through his interpreter.
Nonetheless, Iwamura acquitted himself well in a sneak-peek of the position he may end up playing regularly beginning next spring. While checking in regularly with infield coach Tom Foley, veteran SS Jorge Velandia and 1B Carlos Pena for positioning cues, Iwamura didn't make any obvious mistakes and looked fine turning a 5-4-3 double play that ended the second inning - the kind of play he's used to initiating from the left side of the infield.
'I wanted to turn a double play other than just throwing it from third base,' Iwamura said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon praised Iwamura's movement and game awareness, but the twin-killing definitely caught his attention.
'He really turned that double play well,' Maddon said. 'It was a great feed by 3B Joel Guzman, but I liked the way he hung in there and the velocity of the ball to first base. He did it really well; it looks like he's done it before.'
After an offseason of practice, Iwamura should look even better next year.
'I like challenges,' he said.
UNDER THE KNIFE: Greg Norton may have played his last game for Tampa Bay on Sunday, but he has more pressing concerns at the moment.
Norton has an appointment this afternoon with James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., and will undergo surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow Tuesday. Still undetermined is the exact procedure that awaits Norton. He has been bothered all year by bone chips in the elbow and they will be removed arthroscopically Tuesday.
But he also has had on-and-off trouble with the ulnar nerve in his left arm, a problem that first surfaced on an awkward tag play during one of the Rays' first spring training games this year. Norton may need to get the ulnar nerve transposed - moved over and attached to the muscle so it doesn't flare up as it has this year. That's a much more invasive procedure, and would push his recovery time from four to six weeks up to two to three months.
'They said once they move the ulnar and reattach it, you have to take time, even though it might feel great, for it to really set because you can pop those sutures off pretty easily,' Norton said.
He has been told he'll be fully healthy by Jan. 1, but will he have a team by then? The Rays hold a $1 million option on Norton for next season, but it wouldn't be a surprise if they declined it. For his part, Norton said he wouldn't mind remaining a Ray.
'I think the team's going in the right direction,' he said. 'It's just - in their eyes, do I fit?'
CONTRACT WATCH: Aside from Norton and closer Al Reyes, who would become free agents if the Rays don't pick up their 2008 options (and Reyes certainly will be back), Tampa Bay's other potential free agents are C Josh Paul, RHP Jay Witasick and C Raul Casanova.
The Rays eligible for salary arbitration are Pena, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHPs Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover, Grant Balfour and Shawn Camp and possibly OF Jonny Gomes.
NOTEWORTHY: The Padres are expected to start Jake Peavy in today's one-game playoff against the Rockies, putting Kazmir's hold on the major-league strikeout title in jeopardy. Kazmir has 239 strikeouts and Peavy 234. ... Maddon said the status of his coaches will be resolved 'quickly - within the next couple of days.' Some changes are expected. ... The Rays' 408 runs on the road this season broke the club record of 401 set in 1999.