Iwamura placed on 15-day disabled list
Third baseman has strained oblique; Cantu called up
ST. PETERSBURG , Fla. -- For the past few months, Akinori Iwamura has been fine-tuning his English by watching episodes of the television series "Lost." The former Japan League star actually bought a box set of the hit show last year, when he made a decision to play in America.
"I've been learning phrases from communication with trainers, coaches and players, but the one thing that's been the most effective is the TV show," Iwamura said through his translator.
But while Iwamura is officially listed as a Major League rookie, his play this season has been far from lost. He's ninth in the American League in hitting, at .339, and fifth in the AL with a .479 on-base percentage. He has hit safely in 14 of 17 starts, and has been the tying or winning run in six of the Devil Rays' wins.
On Tuesday, though, his and the Rays' season took a dramatic turn when the club announced that the third baseman had strained his right oblique muscle and would miss the next four to six weeks.
"He's a big part of what we're doing now and in the future, but you don't want to cry about it," said manager Joe Maddon. "He adds his ability as a player, but he also brings his charisma. [Injuries] are something that happen to everybody, though, and you just have to hold down the fort until he gets back."
Iwamura injured himself on Monday during a swing that resulted in a double to deep center in the fifth inning of a 10-8 win over the Yankees. Maddon noticed Iwamura grimacing after the play, and questioned the infielder on his health following the inning.
"The trainers checked him out at that point, and I was going to take him [out], but he insisted that he could play defense," said Maddon.
When Iwamura went to play the field, though, he knew something was wrong.
"Defensive-wise, I didn't feel much pain, but when I set myself to go lower, that's when I noticed it," said Iwamura, who missed most of the 2003 season in the Japan League with a wrist injury. "After that, on each pitch, when I would get up, it felt worse."
Maddon said that Iwamura will wait a few days to begin a rehab program, which would take place primarily at the Naimoli Complex.
"Once he can sneeze or cough without any type of discomfort, then we can get more active with it," said Maddon.
In the meantime, the Rays -- who recalled Jorge Cantu from Triple-A Durham to replace Iwamura on the roster -- will use Ty Wigginton and Brendan Harris at third.
Wigginton, who started 34 games at third last season, had a difficult time figuring out what the team will miss the most during Iwamura's absence.
"What do you pick?" joked Wigginton. "He's been outstanding from the get-go. His defense has been contagious, and when you see Aki going out there making diving plays, you want to do the same. We'll miss his range. His first step off the bat is unbelievable."
But the veteran knows that this year's team has the parts to fill in where needed.
"I think there's a lot of guys here who could be playing everyday somewhere else," said Wigginton, who began his Major League career with the New York Mets. "Obviously we're going to miss Aki, but with this team, no matter what player goes down or what the situation is, we have guys who can step in. That's a tribute to the organization and the coaching staff."
Cantu will fill in when needed at first base, where he has been playing primarily in Durham. He was batting .267 with five doubles, a triple and eight RBIs in 19 games.
"Based on the recommendation of our Minor League people, we decided to bring Jorge back up," said Maddon. "He's been swinging the bat well, and he's had some good work at first."
As far as repairing any damage that may have been caused after Cantu expressed disappointment and sought a trade following his demotion at the end of Spring Training, the skipper was diplomatic.
"I don't carry grudges," said Maddon.
As for Iwamura, by the time he returns, he'll be caught up with the twists and turns of a hit TV show, as well as know some interesting English vernacular.
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.