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Kazmir's strong start encouraging to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays set up their rotation with Scott Kazmir pitching tonight's opener and RHP James Shields working Game 2 because they had to, with Shields needing full rest after working ALCS Game 6 on Saturday.

But that doesn't mean it won't work out well.

Though they made an effort to pitch Kazmir preceding a day off in the first two rounds in case they had to go deep into the bullpen, his performance in Boston last week left them encouraged he will get them off to a good start.

The Rays liked what he did — specifically throwing his slider more often — and how he did it.

"I thought he started to gain confidence as the game was in progress," manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought in the beginning he looked kind of like he had been. Then all of a sudden we got it going a little bit, and I just saw the way he was getting the ball back and getting ready for the next pitch, it looked a little bit more like he was gaining feel."

Kazmir said that was very much the case.

"It's definitely a confidence booster going in this next game," he said.

By starting Kazmir tonight and in Game 5, the Rays have Shields, who is much better at home, set up to pitch twice (Games 2 and 6) at Tropicana Field.

RHP Matt Garza, the ALCS MVP for his two wins, will pitch Game 3 in Philadelphia (and have to hit) on five days' rest. The Rays do have some concern about Game 4 starter Andy Sonnanstine, who will have gone 11 days between starts, and said he will be available in relief tonight and possibly Thursday.

"We're trying to keep out of the fact that Matt Garza is the worst offensive pitcher in the group and he has to play in Philadelphia," Maddon said. "Primarily it's based on rest."

ROSTER REVIEW: The Rays gave considerable thought to some changes, then decided to keep their roster as it was for the ALCS, which means 11 pitchers (four starters and seven relievers) and 14 position players.

The biggest area of discussion was whether to substitute OF Eric Hinske for Gabe Gross, who is hitting .063 for the postseason and 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in the seven-game ALCS.

Backup C Shawn Riggans had been working hard to recover from September right knee surgery but was deemed not ready. RHP Troy Percival has still not rejoined the team since going home to California but is said to be available if a reliever were injured.

BALL GAME: 2B Akinori Iwamura confirmed Tuesday that he still has the ball from the final out of Sunday's pennant-clinching game and hopes to hang on to it.

And as much as understands the historic value it has to the Rays, he explained through interpreter Bori Uchibori that it has sentimental value to him.

"Actually, I have it and I'd like to keep it," Iwamura said. "My mother passed away three years ago, and this is in her honor. I promised I would bring her a ball if I ever made it to the World Series."

LINING UP: The way the Rays have been doing things, their lineup tonight against Phillies LHP Cole Hamels would include the usual regulars, with Rocco Baldelli in rightfield and Willy Aybar at DH.

But Maddon said Tuesday afternoon he hadn't decided yet about rightfield for a couple reasons: the "reverse splits" of Hamels and Phillies Game 2 starter RHP Brett Myers.

What that means is that Hamels is actually tougher on right-handed batters (allowing a .215 average, and 16 homers in 641 at-bats) as opposed to lefties (.262, and 12 homers in 210), and Myers is hit better by right-handers (.293, 18 homers in 403 at-bats) than lefties (.235, 11 in 336).

And what that could mean is switch-hitter Ben Zobrist or lefty Gross could start tonight in right, and Baldelli could play Thursday, either in right or as the DH.

MISCELLANY: Tonight will be the Phillies' first game on artificial turf since July 2, 2006. … This is the fifth World Series to be played in a domed stadium. … The Rays hit five first-inning homers in the ALCS. … 3B Evan Longoria was named AL Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News in a poll of major-league players.

Kazmir's strong start encouraging to Rays 10/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:29pm]
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