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Rays ace Kazmir upbeat but in no rush to return

ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Scott Kazmir felt good Monday after throwing his first bullpen session since suffering a left elbow strain Feb. 26.

Although the Rays ace is targeting Sunday for his exhibition debut, he didn't appear as adamant about making a third straight opening day start, March 31 in Baltimore.

"Sure, it's a goal for me, but I'm not going to rush anything," Kazmir said. "Whatever happens, happens. I realize that it's not going to be that big of a difference going from opening day to maybe Game 2 or Game 3. We're just going to take our time and make sure that everything's strong and we stretched it out and didn't rush it."

Kazmir said he threw about 20 fastballs and 15-20 breaking balls (changeups and sliders) Monday, with "everything feeling free and easy." But in trying to get accustomed to being on the mound after two weeks away, he said he'll throw during batting practice Thursday. Kazmir, 24, said his mechanics were fine, the only small issue was his release point.

"I'm happy where we're at right now," he said.

ROSTER MOVES: The Rays made their first roster cuts of the spring, reassigning to minor-league camp RHP Wade Davis, LHP Jake McGee and C Matt Spring and optioning out OF Fernando Perez, LHP James Houser and C John Jaso.

Davis and McGee, two of the Rays' top pitching prospects, took the news in stride, saying it was a great learning experience. Next year, they hope to be playing for keeps.

"After I got up here around this atmosphere, it's kind of like, 'Get back up here,'  " Davis said with a grin. "I'd like to be a part of what I think is going to happen here. I don't want to show up too late for it."

NO CONCERNS: The Rays say they are not worried about any retaliation by the Yankees on Wednesday despite some veiled threats by New York's Shelley Duncan.

"Hell no," OF Jonny Gomes said. "We'll take care of it. We got some athletes over here."

Manager Joe Maddon said he considered the matter, which started Saturday with criticism by Yankees manager Joe Girardi, to be over: "I stand by what we said, now it's just time to play the game."

If anything, the Rays seem amused by the way the Yankees have reacted.

"Who would have thought the Rays are No. 1 on their mind on March 10?" Gomes said.

HAMMEL ROUGHED UP: For the second straight day, a candidate for the final two rotation spots struggled in his outing. RHP Jason Hammel gave up nine runs and nine hits and three walks in just more than three innings of a 12-10 loss to the Indians. Hammel said he was pleased that he was attacking hitters, saying he adjusted well in the scoreless second and third. Maddon said Hammel got away from the game plan in the fourth. "I was down in the zone for the most part, but too many balls at the hips," Hammel said.

MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton hit his first homer of the spring, a two-run blast in the third. … LF Carl Crawford is one of several regulars not making the trip today to Fort Myers against the Twins, meaning there will be no Crawford conversation with former Ray Delmon Young.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Rays ace Kazmir upbeat but in no rush to return 03/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2008 9:52pm]
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