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Intensity of World Baseball Classic could be a concern for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir

There are reasons for LHP Scott Kazmir to be honored and excited about being chosen to pitch for Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

And there is reason for the Rays to be concerned.

Kazmir, who turns 25 next Saturday, said he doesn't think pitching in the Classic will be much different than what he would have done in a normal spring training with the Rays.

"There's not that many games and there's only so many pitches (allowed under the rules), so it's not like anybody will get overworked," he said. "It should be perfect."

But despite strict limits on usage (pitch limits of 65, 80 and 95 in each of the three rounds; four days between appearances), the workload is going to be heavier.

More of an issue, the intensity is going to be considerably greater.

Coming off the first post­season for many of their pitchers, the Rays were planning to ease their frontline pitchers into action in the spring, which already is a week longer than usual (because of the Classic). So rather than making his first spring appearance on, say, March 9 against the Twins, Kazmir could be starting against Venezuela. The same goes for relievers J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour (Australia), who are also expected to participate.

"The only concern I have is the intensity of the innings early on," said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who had several pitchers from his Houston staff participate in 2006. "I have great confidence in the players themselves and that (the coaches) will take great care with all the guys.

"But when you are out there throwing 100 percent with the U.S. flag on your chest, trying to get guys out in early March and really turning it up, that's my only concern."

Evidence is anecdotal based on the first Classic in 2006, but a number of the participating pitchers had to deal with injuries and inconsistencies throughout that season.

Plus, there's something about being away from the team for potentially more than three weeks. 2B Akinori Iwamura (Japan) and 1B Carlos Pena (Dominican Republic) are also expected to participate; provisional rosters will be announced Monday.

But more so than any of the others, if Kazmir — who had some problems of his own last season — struggles during the season, the Classic isn't going to look too special.

MARRYING TYPE: Executive VP Andrew Friedman closed his biggest deal Saturday, marrying Robin Hochman, whom he has known since college at Tulane, in a ceremony in Puerto Rico attended by manager Joe Maddon and several team officials.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Maddon is thrilled with the additions of Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler: "We've gotten so much better against left-handed pitching, I know that." … OF Fernando Perez was targeted by the Mariners in their winter meetings dealings, according to the Detroit Free-Press, but the Rays' reluctance to deal him cost the Tigers the chance to get closer J.J. Putz. … Kapler will wear No. 27. … Anyone really surprised that ex-Ray Elijah Dukes is having more legal/financial divorce-related issues? The Washington Post reports that "he has no assets" and last year "spent more than his $394,000 should have allowed." … Former Rays C Toby Hall took a minor-league deal with the Astros but should have a decent shot at a big-league job. … OF Jonny Gomes is still looking. … Arbitration settlement talks with INF Willy Aybar, SS Jason Bartlett and C Dioner Navarro could go up until Tuesday's noon deadline.

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

Intensity of World Baseball Classic could be a concern for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir 01/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 6:54am]
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