03/20/07 1:43 PM ET
Kazmir named Opening Day starter
Ace left-hander will take the hill at Yankee Stadium on April 2
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Manager Joe Maddon officially announced that the staff ace will open the 2007 campaign, when the Rays play the Yankees in the Bronx on April 2.
"Kaz will be [the] Opening Day [starter]," Maddon said. "There's no doubt about that. ... So we can adorn tomorrow's headlines with the fact [that] Kaz will be the Opening Day starter."
After he went for a long run following Tuesday's morning workout, Kazmir spoke with the media on the home bench at Progress Energy Park. Yes, the news wasn't a big surprise, but he couldn't hide his smile.
"It's an honor, to pitch the first game, Opening Day," Kazmir said. "Me and Joe actually talked about it before this, so it wasn't a complete surprise. I'm just happy that everything is going OK. I'm healthy and I'm looking forward to Opening Day."
And having the season opener at Yankee Stadium only adds to the thrill.
"I mean, it's an historic park," Kazmir said. "Playing against the Yankees. What more can you ask for? It's going to be exciting. The adrenaline is definitely going to be there."
Kazmir smiled when he was asked for a prediction.
"No predictions," Kazmir said. "I just want to go out there and keep our team in the game. I know the adrenaline is going to be there. I just have to kind of hone that. It's going to be a fun day to kick off the season. I'm excited. I'm ready. ... You don't have a pulse if you don't have the adrenaline going."
Kazmir, who went 10-8 with a 3.24 ERA in 2006, had a stiff shoulder for most of the second half last season, prompting the Rays to eventually employ the cautious approach by shutting him down the rest of the year. Kazmir's last appearance of '06 came on Aug. 22, when he earned a no-decision against the Rangers in a 5-3 Rays' win.
Any questions that the Rays might have had about Kazmir's shoulder have been answered this spring. The left-hander has pitched pain-free since the beginning of Spring Training, and his performance has improved in every outing.
And Kazmir concurred, given the way everything has played out so far this spring.
"It's unbelievable," Kazmir said. "Just having a clear mind now. Knowing that I've done everything that I could. I'll be prepared for Opening Day. I'll be prepared for the season. I'm looking forward to it."
Kazmir said he was never really concerned about his shoulder, even last summer.
"In my mind, never," Kazmir said. "It just felt like something where maybe if I took a couple of days off, it would have been good. We were just cautious and did the right thing."
Maddon could be counted among the cautious last summer, but not anymore. He's convinced that Kazmir is more than ready for the upcoming season.
"I'm not concerned; I mean this guy is good," Maddon said. "You have to look at the previous year to really understand what he's going to do this year. I've got no concerns about him whatsoever."
Kazmir threw 89 pitches on Sunday against the Phillies.
"He gave up a couple of [runs] late, but overall was kind of dominating with his stuff and felt a lot sharper with his slider, apparently," said Maddon, who was in Lakeland, Fla., on Sunday managing the other half of the Rays' split squad. "Then again, I've really had no concerns whatsoever about him. It wasn't that much of a surprise that he did well."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.