ST. PETERSBURG — After an extended 2008 season that was marked by injury and inconsistency, Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir is going to start this season by pitching for the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic, and he'll be joined by reliever J.P. Howell.
Kazmir said the strict pitch counts and light game schedule limited any concerns and made him eager to accept manager Davey Johnson's invitation.
"It's something I wanted to do. Just to be able to be part of the WBC and have a chance to represent my country, it's going to be awesome," Kazmir said. "This is going to be just like spring training would have been. The intensity will be a lot higher, but there's not going to be that many pitches (thrown), so I think we'll be fine."
Howell was initially unsure about participating but changed his mind after he recently started throwing and also is excited: "I feel good enough."
Kazmir and Howell will open spring training with the Rays in mid February but join the U.S. team for workouts (in Clearwater) starting March 2 and could be gone for more than three weeks if the U.S. team reaches the finals.
Kazmir said he doesn't see any risks. "Not at all," he said. "I'm ready. My arm feels good; my body feels good."
Infielders Akinori Iwamura (Japan) and Carlos Pena (Dominican Republic) and pitcher Grant Balfour (Australia) are also expected to participate.