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Notes: Iwamura ready for second base

Notes: Iwamura ready for second base

ST. PETERSBURG -- Akinori Iwamura arrived at camp on Sunday with a smile on his face and a quick wit.

Iwamura is moving from third base to second this season and spoke of the move.

"Of course I'm more comfortable at third base," Iwamura said. "But if the team needs me at second, I'm more than willing to do it. It's a challenge to me, but if Wiggy can do it, I can do it."

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Iwamura smiled after dealing out a dig at former Rays teammate and friend Ty Wigginton, who played a lot of second base for the Rays before getting traded to the Astros. Jokes aside, Iwamura sounded comfortable with the change.

"Playing second base takes more range, fielding-wise. It could be good for me, it will make me stay in shape," Iwamura said.

Iwamura looked more at ease than he did a year earlier when he was just beginning his first season in the Major Leagues after coming over from Japan.

"Last year I was real nervous because I didn't know anybody or anything about the team," Iwamura said. "I'm more relaxed this year."

Iwamura hit .285 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in his initial campaign with the Rays. Those are decent numbers, but numbers that fell short of Iwamura's personal standards.

"I was not satisfied last year with my offense," Iwamura said. "Last year I got hurt and I missed some games. This year, I want to stay healthy and play in as many games as possible without any break."

Zobrist ready: Ben Zobrist began the 2007 season as the Rays' shortstop, starting 13 of the team's first 17 games before starting just two of the next 17 prior to his being optioned to Triple-A Durham. The Rays recalled him on July 29, but he suffered an oblique injury on Aug. 18 that ended his disappointing season. Zobrist hit just .155 with one home run and nine RBIs in 31 games with the Rays.

Now Zobrist finds himself in competition to win a backup infield job. When asked what he learned from last season that could be applied to this season, the soft-spoken Zobrist smiled.

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"I don't think I really had to apply it too much on my own, it got applied to me last year," Zobrist said. "It's just learning how to fail. Learning how to fail and to move on after the failure, to keep going, keep striving to get better and to use the failure actually as a positive. I learned that from the experience. I don't think I would have learned it from just knowing about the experience."

Zobrist can play all of the infield positions, even first base, but he said the Rays haven't defined what they want from him yet.

"I think it's just more of a role player position," Zobrist said. "As far as being ready, whatever they want me to do, once I hear it, I'll just get in there and do it. It might not be in the same capacity as it was last year. Just be ready for anything."

Cali boys: Matt Garza got James Shields' immediate seal of approval by being from California.

"He's a Cali boy," said Shields, who also hails from the Golden State.

Shields smiled when asked if a team can have too many "Cali" boys.

"You can never have too many Cali boys," Shields said. "But it's good. We're going to be all right this year."

Backup catcher: Rays manager Joe Maddon has confirmed that Shawn Riggans is the favorite for the backup catcher's job, and he spoke about what he's looking for from the backup.

"The backup guy should be pretty effective defensively," Maddon said. "It's not an easy position. The guys that do it well make it look easy, but it's not easy. Part of their job really is to help the starting catcher. ... It's like a good backup quarterback in football."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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