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03/13/08 9:55 AM ET

Kazmir throws, closer to recovery

Left-hander 'pumped up' during pain-free mound session

ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Kazmir took the next step in his recovery from a left elbow strain when he took the mound at Progress Energy Park early Thursday morning and threw 33 pitches to Joel Guzman and Jon Weber.

"I threw all my pitches -- five changeups, five sliders, the rest fastballs," said Kazmir, who began throwing shortly after 8 a.m. ET. "It's a little bit different when you have a little adrenaline with that guy up there at the plate. ... I was pumped up to begin with, to get out there and get on the mound."

Kazmir has been progressing nicely since feeling something strange in his left elbow prior to pitching in an intrasquad game on Feb. 25. The left-hander did not pitch that day and got his elbow looked at, revealing an elbow strain. Given his progress, Kazmir still could be the team's Opening Day starter March 31 in Baltimore. Kazmir said the next step will be a one-inning stint against the Tigers on Sunday before moving up to a three-inning stint the next time out.

"I think he was just trying to get work in," said Mike DiFelice, who served as the catcher for Thursday's session. "I don't want to make any more out of it than it is. I think the main thing was that he felt pain-free in his arm. Looked like he had a good rhythm out there. Slow, ball coming out of his hand nice. So it was definitely good to see him out there on the mound."

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Rays manager Joe Maddon also liked what he saw Thursday morning.

"For me, he looked really good," Maddon said. "I was watching from the side, I wanted to see if he was cutting himself off at all, he was not. His fastball was really alive. So was the slider -- the slider had some nice bite to it -- and a changeup, so he looked good overall."

Maddon said seeing his ace pitch pain-free would make for a much more enjoyable bus ride to Fort Myers, Fla., where the Rays are scheduled to meet the Red Sox on Thursday afternoon.

"Furthermore, for the Rays' organization, I'd like to thank Joel Guzman and Jon Weber for them to come out at 8:15 in the morning to hit against a juiced-up Kaz," Maddon said.

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