Notes: Kazmir not worried about money

Notes: Kazmir not worried about money

ST. PETERSBURG -- While two of the Devil Rays' biggest stars, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli, are locked up to long-term deals, the ace of the staff, Scott Kazmir, is not.

When asked about his contract situation, Kazmir, who went 10-8 with a 3.24 ERA in 2006, sounded as though he was more focused on what's happening on the field than off it.

"We've had talks a little bit," Kazmir said. "It's something I'm not rushing into. I'm still going through a learning process. I'm not really worried about it. It would be nice to have, but I'm getting better and improving my skills. If I do all of that, it will take care of itself."

Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, said it is important to the organization that Kazmir pitches for the club a long time.

"We're going to have ongoing conversations, and there is no imposed deadline being that he's going into his third season," Friedman said. "What's important is that both the organization and Scott are approaching this that we both fully expect it to be a long-term marriage, and there will be ongoing discussions to insure that."

Stokes vying for No. 5 spot: Brian Stokes is one of many pitchers vying for the fifth slot in the rotation.

Rays manager Joe Maddon has said a lot of the evaluation for the winner of the competition will come from past performance. If that's the case, Stokes should be high on the list at the beginning of Spring Training. In his final performance of the 2006 season, he allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings against the Indians on Sept. 29.

Maddon likes Stokes' makeup and said one of the keys to his being in the starting rotation is regaining his curveball to complement the right-hander's fastball and changeup.

Stokes had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery to his right elbow on Aug. 27, 2003, and while his arm returned to full strength, the curve has been slow coming back.

"I want to have all three pitches working," Stokes said. "I felt that I lost a little bit [off the curve], because of the extension factor; you've got to bend the elbow. It was more of a mental hump."

Much of dealing with that "mental hump" has been dealing with pain.

"Because when I first started throwing it again, there was the pain factor," Stokes said. "That's a hard part about getting the extension back. Throwing the curveball, you extend a lot more than with the fastball and changeup. Once I got over that hump, where I knew there wasn't going to be any more pain, but in the back of my mind, it felt like there would be pain. Just getting over that hump was the hardest thing."

If Stokes doesn't win the fifth spot, Maddon and company will also consider Stokes for the bullpen. Stokes said he's comfortable either way.

"I was in the bullpen at the beginning of my career, then they turned me into a starter," Stokes said. "I like both. I can do either or. I can do whatever they want me to do."

Stokes' bottom line is he wants to be a Major Leaguer.

"Definitely," Stokes said. "Doesn't everybody?"

Contender for backup at short: Brendan Harris was acquired by the Rays in a January trade and will be one of the players in camp competing for a utility infield spot. Critical to his pursuit is demonstrating an ability to play short. One of the reasons the Rays were attracted to Harris was seeing him play shortstop in the Arizona Fall League in 2005 and coming away impressed.

Harris, 26, said he can't get bogged down worrying about his competition in camp.

"I'm kind of more [concerned] about getting myself ready, and if I play well, everything will take care of itself," Harris said.

Harris, 26, split time between the Nationals and Reds organizations during the 2006 season when he posted a .238 average in 25 Major League games. He has 110 career at-bats over parts of the last three seasons, appearing in 52 games with the Cubs, Expos, Nationals and Reds.

"Because of the experience I've had, it's kind of a bench role, you learn that you need to be ready," Harris said. "Your roles and opportunities are going to come, not when you expect it, but [at] random times. I remember when I was up last year, I hadn't played in a week, and in the middle of the first game of the Yankees series, [shortstop] Royce Clayton went down and I played the rest of that game and the next two games. You've just got to be ready for anything."

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