ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Scott Kazmir feels his road back to the majors is complete.
After throwing 78 sharp pitches for Triple-A Durham on Monday and driving back 11 hours overnight with assistant to the pitching coach Brian Anderson (air travel issues), Kazmir said "everything feels good" and pronounced himself set to rejoin the rotation.
But after meeting behind closed doors for nearly an hour Tuesday, team officials decided to put off any decision until at least after Kazmir throws a bullpen session today.
They want to see how he feels, as he acknowledged some muscle soreness and lack of arm strength, to determine if he would benefit more from an additional minor-league outing where he could be stretched out to 100 pitches.
They also may be buying time as they wrestle with how to create room for him.
LHP David Price, despite Tuesday's rough start, isn't believed to be a candidate to go ("We've still got to keep developing him here,'' manager Joe Maddon said.).
More likely, it's a decision between RHP Andy Sonnanstine (5-7, 6.60) and RHP Jeff Niemann (6-4, 4.23). And even that's not clear-cut as they also have to decide whether to send whoever is chosen to the bullpen (and make room there) or elsewhere. Sonnanstine has options and could be sent to Triple A; Niemann doesn't and would have to be traded or exposed on waivers.
The Rays liked what Kazmir — out since May 21 to heal a right quads strain and rebuild his mechanics — did Monday and how he did it. He showed a well-commanded fastball in the 90-93 range, a sharply breaking slider and a changeup that Maddon said was "uncanny good."
Executive VP Andrew Friedman said "the encouraging thing is what we worked on with his delivery and all the things that we really wanted him to focus on were great (Monday). … All in all just about every aspect of his game was very, very encouraging."
MEDICAL MARVEL: Rays officials were happily and totally surprised to find out 2B Akinori Iwamura's left knee ACL tear wasn't as bad as expected and he could be back in 6-8 weeks.
Iwamura did a month of "pre-hab" work to strengthen muscles around the knee and allow injuries to other ligaments to heal. So when Dr. Koco Eaton first did an arthroscopic procedure Monday to repair a meniscus tear, he got a better look at the ACL than the presurgery MRI exam provided and found the tear was only partial and could be rehabbed, Friedman said. That meant the planned reconstructive surgery, which would have ended his season, was not necessary.
"Obviously outstanding news," Friedman said.
Iwamura, who is in the final year of his contract with the Rays holding a 2010 option, will discuss his good news with the media today.
BRAZILIAN CONNECTION: The Rays' plans to open MLB's first academy in Brazil are long-term as a key part of the project teaching the sport to public school student in Marilla, the host city of 250,000.
Mayor Mario Bulgarelli was at the Trop to talk about how big a deal it was; Rays officials consider it a pioneering effort that likely won't pay off for 5-10 years.
The complex, which includes four fields (two pro size, two youth league) and a dorm for 40 prospects, will be built by the local and federal governments, at a cost of about $750,000, and operated by the Rays. It opens next spring.
STARRY EYED: 3B Evan Longoria (2,488,076 votes) was passed by Yankees SS Derek Jeter (2,563,093) for the overall lead in AL All-Star voting but retains a hefty margin over Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez (1,165,243) to start the July 14 game.
SS Jason Bartlett is a distant second to Jeter and Carl Crawford dropped to fifth among AL outfielders. Online voting at mlb.com continues until July 2. Despite leading the AL in home runs, Carlos Peña is not among the top five first basemen.
REHAB REPORT: RHP Chad Bradford was roughed up in the first of back-to-back outings for Triple-A Durham, allowing three runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning. He's scheduled for one more Saturday with the idea he could rejoin the Rays in Toronto on Monday.
MISCELLANY: The Rays allowed six runs in an inning for the second time this season, and six in the first for the first time since July 5, 2007. … RHP Jason Isringhausen had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in St. Louis. …Three more draft picks signed: No. 7 OF Cody Rogers, No. 11 RHP Alex Koronis and No. 28 LHP Zach Rosscup.