tampabay.com

No worries for Kazmir in return

Starter continues comeback from shoulder problem.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 25, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The linescore on LHP Scott Kazmir's first batting practice session of the spring was 39 pitches, 10 minutes and 0 worries.

The ace starter continued his comeback from the shoulder problem that sidelined him last season, feeling strong and looking sharp while throwing four-seam fastballs, changeups and a few sliders to the talented outfield trio of Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Delmon Young, who homered once and just missed a few others.

"It felt good, real good," Kazmir said. "The guys surprised me a little bit - they were hacking. It was fun to get back out there, get in the swing of things, see a batter up at the plate. It was good to finally see that again. ...

"All I really was trying to do was stay consistent with everything and not overthrow because it's still early. But everything felt free and easy, every pitch, even my slider, which I haven't really thrown too much in the bullpen yet."

Crawford was impressed: "He was throwing the ball hard, hitting his spots and was under control. There was no reason you'd know he had an injury. He looked good, and that's good for the team."

Kazmir threw from the windup and the stretch, making a slight adjustment to where his foot starts on the rubber so he falls more toward the plate. "It helps me fall forward and throw the ball where I want to with maybe a little more zip on it."

FAN FESTIVAL: There was no turnstile count, but from the big crowds and long lines, the Rays considered Saturday's FanFest to be the biggest of their 11.

"It is yet another indication of the region's increased interest in the Rays," president Matt Silverman said. "And it gives us confidence that this year we will improve upon the significant gains in attendance and TV ratings we recorded last year."

The day went relatively smoothly, though the Rays had to borrow some credit card machines from a business across the bay. Fans buying Rays merchandise got receipts from the Tampa Yankees, Legends Field.

MR. TUSSAUDS: As part of the effort to keep his left wrist feeling good, Crawford gives it a paraffin bath each day. He dips his hand in hot wax five times each morning, then wears a plastic bag over it for 10 minutes so he doesn't get the wax on anything. "It loosens it up and keeps it warm," he said.

POWER BALL: Jonny Gomes continued his smashing batting practice performance with another barrage of balls into the parking lot, though he didn't break any windshields Saturday. "I guess I owe OF Jason Grabowski $20," Gomes said. "I got his (Friday), and his insurance covered it, but he had to tip the guy."

PITCHING IN: LHP Casey Fossum, the projected No. 3 or 4 starter, had another solid bullpen session in his comeback from offseason shoulder surgery but is not yet scheduled to face hitters. ... RHP Shinji Mori, coming back slowly from a shoulder injury that sidelined him all last season, threw 25 pitches off a mound and said, through an interpreter, "I feel like real progress is being made." ... LHP Jeff Ridgway looked sharp throwing batting practice and had fun: "You see guys you watch on TV in the box." ... RHP Jeff Niemann was pleased with his session but said his mechanics still need some refinement.

MISCELLANY: Gomes, RHP Chad Orvella, C Shawn Riggans and INFs Brendan Harris and Elliot Johnson agreed to one-year deals, leaving nine players unsigned before Friday's deadline to be renewed. ... Players went through the annual spring eye exams before the workout. ... Today's fundamental focus will be baserunning. ... Tony Peguero and Juan Salas, who didn't arrive until Friday, are scheduled to face hitters for the first time today. ... The Rays will continue live batting practice through Monday, then play intrasquad games Tuesday and Wednesday. The exhibition opener is Friday.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.

Fast Facts:

Today's schedule

The full squad works out from 9:15 to 12:45 at the Naimoli Complex, 7901 30th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, with live batting practice from 11:10 to noon.

Number of the day

0 What 3B Akinori Iwamura said were the chances he would challenge hot-dog eating champ Takeru Kobayashi, who is expected to visit camp today.

Quote of the day

"I'm 20-15. But I might not be 20-15 yet. I've only had one cup of coffee."

- OF Dustan Mohr on Saturday morning's eye exam