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Kazmir bulks up to prepare for long haul

Scott Kazmir is primed for a big season.

Just not quite as big, perhaps, as is being suggested.

In an effort to be stronger throughout the season, the Devil Rays' promising left-hander spent the winter working out with weights, specifically doing squats, and figures he added about 12 pounds of muscle to his barely 6-foot frame, pushing his weight to about 188 pounds.

He's hoping it's enough to make a difference, but it's not quite the 20-pound gain being reported on espn.com.

"I've been trying to beef up a little bit, mostly my legs, trying to get those stronger," Kazmir said Monday. "It seems like it's helping out a lot, making it a lot easier to stay balanced and stay real strong on my back side. Going through the first full season, you know how much it breaks you down a little bit, so I think it's good to get stronger and have a little more weight on there."

Without any significant improvements to the rotation, the Rays will expect Kazmir, 22, to carry a heavy load this season, which could start with the opening day assignment.

"That's always been my lifelong goal, to be an opening day starter," he said. "I'm excited, and I'm up for the challenge."

Spring training begins Friday, and Kazmir said he has been watching video and refining his delivery in the hope of improving on an impressive 2005 season that included a 10-9 record, 3.77 ERA and 174 strikeouts, fourth most in the American League.

"I feel ready," he said. "I really do."

MORE MORI: Japanese reliever Shinji Mori is working to get comfortable in the Tampa Bay area and getting an early start on workouts, on Monday throwing a brief bullpen session.

"So-so," Mori said, "My first one."

ON THE SCENE: Regulars Jorge Cantu and Toby Hall worked out with a dozen or so others, and two other new Rays checked in, reliever Chad Harville and non-roster catcher Mike Rose.

Cantu, the Rays' MVP last season, said he was eager to get back to work after an at-times hectic offseason in his native Mexico, and also because he will leave camp March 2 to join the Mexican team in the World Baseball Classic.

"Everything's good and I'm ready to go," Cantu said.

MISCELLANY: Based on the average age of 26.68 for players on the 40-man roster, the Rays go into spring training with the second-youngest roster in the AL, behind Seattle (26.63), and fourth overall, also behind Florida (24.91) and Atlanta (26.53). The Rays winter caravan resumes today with a visit to MacDill Air Force Base, with plans for an autograph session, assembly for schoolchildren and a tour. Team officials are preparing for a Wednesday arbitration hearing with new backup catcher Josh Paul, who is seeking a raise from $450,000 to $750,000. The Rays offered $450,000.

- MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writer

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