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03/18/07 5:10 PM ET

Notes: Kazmir pitching like an ace

Lefty feeling great after strong performance against Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scott Kazmir is the Devil Rays' best pitcher, and he certainly looked the part on Sunday against the Phillies.

The left-hander pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out seven.

"I felt great," Kazmir said. "I was just working on my slider, and I finally got a good feel for it and was able to bury it."

The Rays' No. 1 starter escaped a first-inning jam after Jimmy Rollins led off with a single, went to second on a ground out, then moved to third with one out when Kazmir threw wild trying to pick off Rollins at second. He then struck out reigning National League Most Valuable player Ryan Howard on four pitches and retired Pat Burrell on a fly out to end the inning.

Kazmir struck out the side in the second, using just 12 pitches. During one stretch, he struck out four in a row and five out of six batters.

Kazmir held the Phillies scoreless through five innings before they got three runs off him on an RBI double by Howard and a two-run homer by Burrell.

"Just a couple of pitches I wish I had back," Kazmir said. "I tried to elevate a fastball with Burrell, and it ended up being right down the middle, belt high. And Ryan Howard, I tried to go outside and it ended up being [on the] inner third [of the plate]."

Kazmir has looked increasingly better each outing, offering further proof he is not suffering any lingering effects from the stiff shoulder that sidelined him for most of the second half in 2006.

"All in all, it felt good," Kazmir said. "It felt like I had my command, and I'm just happy to get my slider back."

Navarro feeling better: Catcher Dioner Navarro is close to playing again after suffering a strained left hamstring earlier this spring.

"I still don't know when I'll play, but it feels better and better every day," he said. "Still have a few more days, still have a few more tests, but I'm pretty happy with where I'm at."

A year ago, Navarro was in camp with the Dodgers and suffered a pulled right hamstring.

"This is nothing compared to last year," Navarro said. "Last year, I couldn't even walk. I fell. I was on crutches for a week.

"I was running down the line and I fell. They carried me from first base to the clubhouse. When I took my clothes off, it was black and blue already. That's how bad it was. But I feel good now. Maybe I'll be ready by the end of the week."

Manager Joe Maddon has said he'd like to see Navarro return by Tuesday.

Countdown to Opening Day Hot Stove Show: The Rays' Hot Stove radio show, "Countdown to Opening Day," goes live from Ferg's (1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg) Monday from 7-9 p.m. on 1250-AM WHNZ. The show can also be heard live and archived on devilrays.com. Monday's show will feature Mitch Lukevics, the Rays' director of Minor League operations, and infield prospects Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria. The programs runs each Monday evening through Spring Training and includes weekly live interviews with Rays players, coaches and staff, with live listener call-ins.

This and that: Akinori Iwamura's seventh-inning single againt the Phillies extended his hitting streak to three games. ... Ben Zobrist went 3-for-4 and scored the winning run against the Phils on B.J. Upton's triple. Upton successfully squeezed home a run earlier in the game. ... Right-hander Al Reyes will work an inning during a Triple-A game at the Naimoli Complex on Monday, while the rest of the team will be off. ... Right-hander Jae Seo will work in a Minor League game at the Naimoli Complex on Tuesday. ... Entering Sunday's action, only the Red Sox had struck out more times (130) than the Rays (124) in the American League. ... Elijah Dukes was held out on Sunday to give his right quadriceps an extra day of rest.

Up next: After an off-day Monday, the Rays will host the Indians on Tuesday afternoon in a 1:05 ET contest at Progress Energy Park. Gary Glover will start for the Rays, as Maddon wants to see the right-hander make a start. A parade of right-handed contenders for the bullpen will follow Glover: Dan Miceli, Scott Dohmann, Shawn Camp, Ruddy Lugo and Juan Salas. Righty Jake Westbrook will start for the Indians.

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