ST. PETERSBURG — Left-hander Scott Kazmir may well be fine, as he and the Rays insist, needing just some additional time to build arm strength in his recovery from an elbow strain Feb. 26.
But the circumstantial evidence has not been particularly convincing. There have been repeated delays in the process, Kazmir was prohibited from even playing catch Sunday, and neither he nor the Rays can say when he will be ready to pitch in his first exhibition.
Then manager Joe Maddon acknowledged Sunday that Kazmir "more than likely" will open the season on the 15-day disabled list.
"There's no rush on this whole thing," Maddon said. "We believe he's fine. We just want to make sure that the arm strength is there and that we take care of this right now so that there is no lingering effect during the season."
The Rays and Kazmir say they don't expect his stay to be lengthy, and by backdating the move, he could be eligible to pitch as soon as April 5. But even in a best-case scenario, it could take longer as the Rays say they are determined to make sure whatever ails him now does not become a recurring issue.
And they seem to have persuaded Kazmir, joking that at 24 he now had a mature perspective, to see it the same way.
"We're just going to take some time to make sure everything's strong going into the season," Kazmir said. "It's a long season, and we want to make sure of that. I don't want to go three or four starts and go back on the DL or something like that. We just want to make sure we get it right."
The Rays said that Kazmir had looked "very good" in bullpen sessions and during batting practice Thursday and that the problem is only lack of arm strength. But when asked to be more specific Sunday, Maddon said: "It's just something on the backside of his arm. It's not bad. It really is not bad. We're being really overly cautious right now. He threw the other day, and he threw really well, actually. He came out of it and we were just not satisfied that the arm strength was built up, and we want to make sure any kind of discomfort is gone out of there."
And Kazmir suggested the issue is more preventative. "It's just building up arm exercises, making sure we have support and strength for everything," he said. "You don't want some part of your arm not in shape as you want it to be and you compensate for something else and you have a different problem. So that's why we want to get rid of it now completely and go on."
Kazmir has been followed by whispers of injury concerns since the Rays swiped him from the Mets in a lopsided July 2004 deal for Victor Zambrano and is frustrated because he thinks the talk originated in New York as a means to justify the deal.
Indeed, there was chatter among scouts at Sunday's game that Kazmir had a more serious elbow problem than was being reported, which Kazmir flatly denied: "Not at all. None of that." And he admitted he has learned to take such talk as a challenge. "I'll just keep proving people wrong," he said.
When Kazmir was first sidelined, the Rays said they expected him to miss about two weeks, but initial progress accelerated the timetable. Kazmir acknowledged Sunday that "we kind of rushed it a little bit" and insisted it would be only a matter of time.
"It will just take a couple more days longer to get where we need to be," he said.
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