BRADENTON — Maybe ace LHP Scott Kazmir will make that opening day start after all.
Kazmir was deemed free of inflammation and stiffness, manager Joe Maddon said Sunday, and advanced to "phase two" of his recovery from a left elbow strain.
Kazmir is now working with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield on drills — using a ball in a sock — to simulate the throwing motion and weight work. If all continues to go well, he could start playing catch and long toss in 2-3 days, then go to the mound for a bullpen session.
"Before it was just about getting rid of the inflammation," Maddon said. "Now we're about getting his arm moving as though it were throwing a baseball again."
The Rays haven't set a timetable for his return; Kazmir said he was determined to pitch the March 31 opener.
There was also good news on top draft pick LHP David Price, who missed his Tuesday intrasquad appearance with shoulder stiffness. Price threw an eight-minute, 40-pitch bullpen session Sunday morning, telling pitching coach Jim Hickey everything "felt normal," and he could make his exhibition debut by the end of the week.
"DOOGIE" DOES IT: LHP prospect James Houser made a second dramatic relief appearance in three days, coming in with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth and the Rays leading 7-3. He gave up two runs (on a single and a sac fly) but got three outs to seal the 7-5 victory and has a win and a save in his first two major-league exhibition appearances.
In Friday's opener he came on in a similar situation in the eighth, gave up the tying run but got the final three outs, and the Rays rallied in the ninth.
"We only bring him in with the bases loaded and nobody out when it's very critical," Maddon said. "Doogie's done a great job twice now. That's very difficult moments, and I love his composure. … He was jacked up when he came off the mound. … He's going to gain a lot of confidence from the last two outings."
Said Houser: "That was a good time."
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeff Niemann threw some good pitches, but he threw too many (33) and was limited to one inning in the first start of his bid for a spot in the rotation, undone by an inconsistent delivery. "Today was good and bad," he said. "I was either painting black or we were missing by a mile." … RHP prospect Wade Davis struggled in his exhibition debut, allowing a home run to his first batter and walking in a run in his second inning. … LHP Brian Anderson had such a good bullpen session he could pitch this week in a game, which would be his first of any kind since June 2006, just before his second Tommy John surgery.
MEDICAL MATTERS: INF Joel Guzman left the game after being hit by a pitch on the left ring finger but had it drilled to relieve the pressure and is day to day. … The Rays continue to be cautious with OF Rocco Baldelli, giving him an extra day off after he played his first game (two groundouts as the DH) on Saturday since his May season-ending hamstring injury. Baldelli is scheduled to DH again Tuesday and possibly play the outfield Thursday or Friday.
MISCELLANY: C Dioner Navarro said his mother is doing well and had been released from a Venezuelan hospital, where she was treated for a brain aneurysm. … Gibbs High product Boof Bonser will make the homecoming trip to St. Petersburg and start for the Twins on Tuesday. … In three games, the Rays have seven steals, including two double steals. … The Rays officially announced they renewed the contract of CF B.J. Upton.