Rays planning to hold a tight rein on Kazmir

Inflammation and a strain sideline the ace, whose timetable may be shorter than the team's.

By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Published February 28, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - Given the alternative, the Rays were pleased Wednesday with the diagnosis that ace Scott Kazmir had inflammation and a left elbow strain and was likely to miss only about two weeks of spring work and perhaps a couple of regular-season starts.

Now their challenge is to keep the 24-year-old left-hander from trying to come back too soon and risking another setback.

After just a half-day of treatment, Kazmir insisted he already felt better and would return to the mound quickly as he was determined to make a projected opening day start on March 31 in Baltimore.

"Definitely," Kazmir said. "I'm going to take it slow, but I think this is something that is going to heal pretty quick and the inflammation is going to go down pretty quick. I'm confident I'm going to be out there pretty soon."

The Rays, though, are more concerned with making sure that whatever caused the discomfort that led Kazmir to walk off the mound before Tuesday's intrasquad game does not become a recurring problem.

So they are more cautious in their projections, saying they won't rule out opening day but, according to pitching coach Jim Hickey, consider such a return "ambitious" and "probably a little bit aggressive.'

"Our goal is that once he retakes the mound that he never comes back off of it," Hickey said. "I would rather him begin late and finish with all consecutive starts vs. maybe getting back a little bit early and have a two-week setback."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said there would be no formal timetable as Kazmir has to progress through several stages of recovery before returning to the mound: getting rid of the inflammation, doing training room exercises, playing catch then long toss. But he also acknowledged they'd make decisions based on how Kazmir said he felt and that it was "imperative" there was proper commuication.

"I would assume it would be two weeks at least before he's throwing to a hitter," Friedman said.

Typically, whatever time a starter - especially a young one - misses in the spring carries over into the regular season, but Kazmir said a shortened season was "out of the question" and "not going to happen."

Manager Joe Maddon expected no less bravado from Kazmir. "I want him to think those things, but by the same token you can't mess with biology. We've got to make sure everything is in order and moving along at the right pace ... " Maddon said.

"Absolutely, it's all about the big picture. He's going to want to get out there and I know that and we discussed that, and I can tell when you speak to him he's listening, but he's also formulating his own opinion in the back of his mind. That's all well and good, but we're going to stick with it and we're going to do what we perceive to be the right thing."

With Kazmir out, there will be additional innings - and opportunity - for the five starters who already were competing for the two open spots in the rotation: Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann and Andy Sonnanstine. Obviously there could be a third opening now, though Friedman said he expected it to be "a very, very short-term situation."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.