Notes: Hitters impressed with Kazmir

Notes: Hitters impressed with Kazmir

ST. PETERSBURG -- In the marquee event of Saturday's workout, it was Scott Kazmir vs. Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Delmon Young.

Rays pitchers faced Rays hitters, and the ace of the staff went up against the first three hitters in the order.

"It was fun to get back out there in the swing of things, to see a batter at the plate," Kazmir said. "They brought the sticks. All I was really trying to do was stay consistent and everything and not over throw. Everything felt free and easy, every pitch. Used my slider, which I haven't really thrown too much in my bullpen yet. Felt like I got a good feel for it today."

Kazmir threw 39 pitches in 10 minutes, mostly changeups, four-seam fastballs and "four or five sliders."

Kazmir said such events facilitate smack-talking among teammates.

"It's friendly competition," Kazmir said. "We're just messing with everybody pretty much. You saw Delmon, his first swing, I mean you could tell his intentions right there. ... It's all in fun. Again, it's just great to be out there. Seeing live hitters."

Crawford said he kept his comments to himself for the most part.

"You know, you don't want to say too much, he might let one accidentally slip away," said Crawford with a chuckle. "He looked good, especially on lefties, throwing the ball hard, keeping it away. ... [It] looked like he's ready to pick up where he left off. [He] looked under control."

Added Baldelli: "I thought he looked good. He was throwing strikes. That's pretty much all he was worried about. And he's always had good stuff, so that's not shocking to me facing him. I mean, he's throwing the ball good and he had command, so it's pretty much all anyone could ask for."

Kazmir said seeing hitters raised his adrenalin level a bit.

"It's just a different look with a hitter in there," Kazmir said. "It's something you've got to get used to. At this time you're just kind of going through your mechanics to make sure everything is smooth and easy. You're not doing anything herky-jerky. And you're not trying to get that extra little velocity. You're just trying to stay within yourself, stay closed."

Kazmir has not had any pain this spring and said he has recovered easily after throwing.

"My preparation has been a little more than what I normally do, which has helped me," Kazmir said. "I have more of a routine now for how I start my day. It's going good. Recovery is pretty quick."

While some might have viewed Kazmir's stint as a stepping stone since a stiff shoulder ended his 2006 season, he could not be counted among that group.

"For me, I knew I was good to go from mid-August, whenever I went on the DL the first time," Kazmir said. "It's not really too much for me, just the excitement and being able to get into the swing of things and having hitters up there. That's the only thing. I'm glad to be at that point now."

In hindsight: Jorge Cantu had a tremendous season in 2005, when he hit 28 home runs with 117 RBIs, but his production slipped in 2006, thanks largely to injuries. However, he does believe the highly visible offseason he had after the 2005 season factored into the equation as well.

"I wasn't working out like I worked out this winter," Cantu said. "I was always busy doing stuff for the community in Mexico and everything. I was there for the people. It might have been. But I don't know. The thing is, I didn't work as hard last winter as I did this winter. So I'm really prepared mentally for this year."

Cantu also participated for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, which he doesn't believe affected his performance in 2006.

"I wish there were [a World Baseball Classic] every year," Cantu said. "It had me going really good. I'm sure a lot of guys liked it. Unfortunately, I had that bad luck on the fourth day of the season [when I broke my foot]."

Countdown to Opening Day: The Rays Hot Stove radio show, "Countdown to Opening Day," goes live again from Boston's The Gourmet Pizza on Monday at 7 p.m. ET on 620-AM WDAE. The show can also be heard live and archived on devilrays.com. Monday's show will feature Gerry Hunsicker, the Rays senior vice president of baseball operations; Steven Henderson, Rays hitting coach; and Ty Wigginton, Rays infielder. The one-hour program will run each Monday evening through Spring Training and will include weekly live interviews with Rays players, coaches and staff, with live listener call-ins.

Rays radio broadcasters Andy Freed and Dave Wills will host the program, with special guest appearances by Rays TV broadcasters Dewayne Staats, Joe Magrane and Todd Kalas and special advisor Fred McGriff.

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