BRADENTON, Fla. -- Two winters ago, with Evan Longoria ready for the Majors and a position change looming for incumbent Rays third baseman Akinori Iwamura, manager Joe Maddon told the infielder to find "the Bill Mazeroski of Japan" to tutor him.
Iwamura did, calling on Japanese defensive whiz Yutaka Ohashi for help. And it worked. At his new position, second base, Iwamura began the 2008 season with a 74-game errorless streak.
The Bill Mazeroski of Japan was to thank.
Just imagine how much the real Mazeroski might help.
On hand in Bradenton to help whip this current group of Pirates into shape, Mazeroski -- who won eight Gold Gloves during a Hall of Fame career at second base -- has already begun to impart his infield knowledge upon Iwamura.
"I like to learn everything about second base from Mr. Mazeroski," Iwamura said through his interpreter. "And I mean everything."
Like the Rays, the Pirates are asking Iwamura to play second base after spending his whole career in Japan at third. His bat is more valuable to the team at second, and if he can remain there, Pittsburgh won't have to worry about top third-base prospect Pedro Alvarez eventually pushing him out.
But that all depends on how well Iwamura, who came to the Pirates in an offseason trade for reliever Jesse Chavez, can continue to play an unnatural position.
So far, he has transitioned quite well to life in the Majors, entering his fourth big league season with a .281 career average and a .984 fielding percentage.
Iwamura is coming off left knee surgery wearing a brace, which he will continue to sport throughout the season. But he is confident that the injury -- not to mention all the transitions -- will not affect him.
"It's getting better," Iwamura said of his knee. "No problems."
To date, it has not limited him in infield practice, which he says is going well.
And he has both Mazeroskis to thank for that.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.