Tampa Bay Rays prevent Scott Kazmir from pitching in the World Baseball Classic

Scott Kazmir, center, stretching Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park, is disappointed but says he understands the Rays’ stance.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Scott Kazmir, center, stretching Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park, is disappointed but says he understands the Rays’ stance.

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays prevailed in keeping Scott Kazmir from pitching in the World Baseball Classic, leaving their ace left-hander "disappointed" after taking what amounted to his first loss of the season.

The Rays didn't want Kazmir to pitch for Team USA based on concerns about his health and workload, specifically the accelerated preparation and competitiveness required for the March 5-23 tournament, and their petition was approved Tuesday by the joint MLB-union panel.

"I'm just disappointed," said Kazmir, 25. "I was looking forward to it. I wanted to play for my country. It would have been exciting. At the same time, I'm trying to look at some positives, that I'll be on the field with my teammates getting ready for the season."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said allowing Kazmir to participate "had a chance to be problematic" over the upcoming season.

The Rays want Kazmir, and their other starters, on a conservative schedule this spring because they worked an extra month last year pitching through the World Series, delaying their first game appearances, which are usually for two innings, until March 6-7.

Plus, there are concerns because Kazmir missed the first five weeks of last season with an elbow injury. (He spent 44 days on the disabled list; under WBC rules, players who missed 45 days are automatically ineligible.)

"With the health issues he had last year, coupled with the fact that we played an extra month, we felt like the prudent thing to do would be to push him back a little bit in spring as we're doing with some of our other pitchers as well," Friedman said.

"We felt like the difference between pitching competitively in early March with USA on your chest as opposed to sometime in the second week of March in a Grapefruit League game differed greatly in terms of what it takes to get to that point as well as stress on the arm."

Kazmir had been honored and excited about being named to the team and was looking forward to the experience.

But he said he understood the Rays' actions. "That's their job, and it was available for them to do," he said.

Friedman said he did not expect any lingering ramifications since they had been open with Kazmir about their concerns.

"It was a very well-deserved invitation," Friedman said, "but looking at it as a positive for the organization, it gives him a chance to get ready a little slower and be around his teammates all of spring training, so that's what we're focusing on."

USA Baseball executive director/CEO Paul Seiler said they were "disappointed" to lose Kazmir, who he thanked for his enthusiasm, support and patriotism, but also said they "respect the Rays' decision and their perspective" and "understand that they have to do what is best for their organization."

Only two Rays now seem likely to participate in the Classic, reliever J.P. Howell for Team USA and second baseman Akinori Iwamura for Japan. Third baseman Evan Longoria is on the U.S. provisional roster.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Rays prevent Scott Kazmir from pitching in the World Baseball Classic 02/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 7:44am]

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