Notes: Kazmir doesn't hold back

Notes: Kazmir doesn't hold back

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Scott Kazmir still isn't the real Scott Kazmir, but relatively speaking, the Rays' ace showed improvement in Tuesday's four-inning stint against the Phillies.

"I felt good today, I really did," Kazmir said. "[I] felt like I could really let it go."

Kazmir's only frustrations came with trying to locate his slider. On one occasion, Kazmir threw an 0-2 slider, but he surrendered a base hit. After the hit, he showed his disappointment by bending over and shaking his head.

"I tried to bury a slider," Kazmir explained. "I wanted to bury it, but it caught too much of the plate."

Kazmir entered Tuesday's start 0-1 with a 10.38 ERA in two outings. The Phillies got to the left-hander for three runs on five hits -- including Rod Barajas' two-run homer and a walk. Kazmir also hit a batter and struck out two, but he was pleased with how he adjusted his mechanics from his previous outing.

"It's weird how some small things can change everything," Kazmir said. "I finally felt good throwing the ball instead of fighting myself."

Kazmir, who went 10-8 with a 3.24 ERA in 2006, endured a stiff shoulder in the second half of last season, prompting the Rays to take a cautious approach that eventually ended his season. So the status of his shoulder remains a primary concern for the team. In that vein, Tuesday's outing held no significance other than providing further validation that his shoulder is fine.

"[My] shoulder feels great," Kazmir said. "I feel great, really."

That's all I'm saying about that: When Ty Wigginton took a pitch to the leg from Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman in Monday's game, he was visibly upset running to first base. Along the way, he gestured to the dugout and his message was clear: his teammates needed to retaliate.

Both teams were issued warnings by the home-plate umpire and the game finished without incident. Afterward, Rays manager Joe Maddon addressed Wigginton's anger with a smile.

"Anything that Wiggy does, I'm OK with," Maddon said. "He was upset, and he had every right to be upset. ... I have the utmost respect for that man."

Maddon addressed the issue with his club on Tuesday.

"All I will say is we talked about it," Maddon said.

Asked about the teaching point from Monday's game, Maddon replied, "team unity."

"It's always about us," Maddon said. "It's we, us. Those are the real pronouns. So if anything happened out of [Monday], that was a teachable moment in that regard."

Erik Walker Community Champion Award: The Rays have established the Erik Walker Community Champion Award, which recognizes a Rays Minor League player who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship and community involvement, attributes exhibited by Rays Minor League pitcher Erik Walker, who died in an October canoeing accident.

The Rays will present the winner with a commemorative plaque at the season-ending Minor League ceremony at Tropicana Field in September and award a check for $2,500 in the winner's name to the charity of his choice. Nominees should embody the qualities of Walker, who was recognized as someone who was a great teammate, a caring person and who enriched the lives of people in need and inspired others to do the same.

First cut: The Rays made their first cut Tuesday when they reassigned the following non-roster invitees to Minor League camp: outfielders Jason Grabowski and Fernando Perez; infielders Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac; catcher Josh Arhart; and right-handers Andy Sonnanstine, Steve Andrade and Tony Peguero.

Right-handers Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot, who are on the 40-man roster, were optioned to Triple-A Durham.

This and that: The Double-A Montgomery Biscuits will receive their 2006 Southern League championship rings at the Naimoli Complex on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will present the players with their rings. ... Right-hander Nick DeBarr, a Rule 5 Draft pick by the Red Sox in December, was returned to the Rays' organization on Monday.

Up next: The Rays will travel to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Wednesday for a 7:05 p.m. contest against the Reds. Edwin Jackson will start for the Rays, and the right-hander hopes to improve his case for becoming the team's No. 5 starter. He will be followed by left-hander J.P. Howell and right-hander Brian Stokes, who are also in the hunt for the No. 5 spot. Right-handers Shawn Camp and Ruddy Lugo will also pitch for the Rays. Right-hander Bronson Arroyo will start for the Reds.

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