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Kazmir gets first career All-Star nod

Rays ace Kazmir gets first All-Star nod

ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Kazmir has pitched like an All-Star all season for the Devil Rays. On Sunday, he officially became an All-Star.

Elected by the players, Kazmir, 22, is the Rays' lone representative for this year's Midsummer Classic to be played at Pittsburgh's PNC Park on July 11. The Rays did not have a player elected to the team as a starter in fan voting, and American League manager Ozzie Guillen did not choose more than one Rays player for his roster.

"It's exciting, an unbelievable feeling to be a part of the All-Star Game and all the festivities," Kazmir said. "I can't wait to get to Pittsburgh to enjoy it. It's going to be fun. Right now, it feels like the ultimate to be there with all those superstars, to be a part of the game and represent the Devil Rays. It's just something that's great to be a part of."

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After winning 10 games for the Rays in 2005, a season in which he showed much promise, Kazmir stepped up his performance during the first half of 2006, posting a 9-5 mark with a 3.59 ERA.

"This is the first All-Star team I've made in my professional career," Kazmir said. "I made All-Stars in Little League, Mustang League and high school, but this definitely tops them all, I can tell you that.

"It's something I worked for, something I hoped for. I have just wanted to keep getting better with every start and continue that through the season. I want to keep working hard and get better and maybe get invited back to more of these."

Manager Joe Maddon was happy for his ace.

"It's quite an achievement to be named to a Major League All-Star team," Maddon said. "I think, personally, that should bolster [Kazmir's] confidence even more. Obviously, within the league, that sets him apart a little bit. As a personal achievement, I think it's great for him and his family. For us, as an organization, it indicates that we're getting better in some areas, particularly when you talk about a young, left-handed starting pitcher. I think that's quite an achievement right there."

Kazmir agreed with his manager.

"It's definitely a confidence builder, and you need that as a pitcher, being confident with everything, with every pitch that you throw," Kazmir said. "I just hope to use it as a positive out there for the second half."

Kazmir's highlights include his average of 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, which leads the American League and ranks third in the Majors. He ranks second in the AL with 108 strikeouts, and reeled off a career-high five consecutive wins from April 30 to May 21, a stretch that saw him pitch to a 0.78 ERA and allow no more than one earned run in each start. Dating back to the 2005 season, Kazmir has allowed one run or fewer in 22 starts, which ranks second in the Major Leagues.

The slider remains Kazmir's out pitch, but he has a fastball that regularly clocks in at 94 mph and a changeup to go with that. Among the developments that have allowed Kazmir to become a better pitcher this season is his newfound ability to throw the changeup for strikes, which has prevented hitters from sitting on his fastball, and a knack for working both sides of the plate.

Kazmir has a refreshing positive aura around him, and he is respectful of the game. Though he has made the American League team for the All-Star Game, the idea of being a Major League All-Star still hasn't really hit the youngster just yet.

"As it gets closer to the All-Star break, it's something you think about a little," Kazmir said. "You want to be a part of it. Now that it's happened, it's an unbelievable feeling."

Maddon said he talked to Kazmir about being an All-Star from the beginning, even when he struggled early.

"And then, all of the sudden, he caught on fire a little bit," Maddon said. "You don't have to be old to be good. I thought his makeup was good enough. His pitches are definitely good enough."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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