PORT CHARLOTTE — Throughout Scott Kazmir's rehab, both he and the Rays have been encouraged with how the left-hander felt — and pitched — during bullpen sessions and a simulated game.
But both wanted to see Kazmir do it in a real game. And after he pitched 42/3 scoreless innings for Class A Charlotte on Wednesday night, he was happy with the life and movement of his pitches, his efficiency (64 pitches, 44 for strikes) and how his body felt afterward.
"It's a huge step," he said.
And Kazmir, who said he's scheduled to start Monday for Triple-A Durham, believes he's close to rejoining the Rays rotation and resembling the form he had in 2007, when he last felt like himself.
"It just feels, at times, effortless," he said. "Like I'm not trying to do anything and the ball just jumps. And that's where I want to be. I want to be out there not worrying about mechanics; just doing what I do and getting hitters out. I feel like I'm not thinking out there anymore about what I'm doing, about what my legs are doing. I'm just going out there and throwing strikes."
Kazmir went on the disabled list May 22 with a right quads strain and to rework his mechanics. Kazmir gave up just three hits, striking out five and walking one. He said his changeup and slider had depth, and with his mechanics, "it's like night and day from where it was before."
Kazmir might have gone five innings if what could have been a six-pitch fourth not been prolonged by a throwing error. He was pulled due a pitch limit.
"With the delivery I had before, you felt nervous about pushing on the gas pedal, trying to get it going a little bit," he said. "With what I have now, everything feels perfect."