© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

04/08/08 8:07 PM ET

After 'pen session, Kazmir feels good

Rays' ace optimistic, eager to get to next step in rehab program

ST. PETERSBURG -- Well before the throng of fans entered Tropicana Field for the Rays' home opener on Tuesday, a small group of media gathered to see Scott Kazmir throw a live bullpen session.

It was the first live simulated session for Kazmir since he suffered a left elbow strain on Feb. 25 during an intrasquad game.

After breezing through a 60-pitch mound session at the Minor League complex on Saturday morning, Kazmir threw 42 pitches to various Rays batters.

"[Kazmir] threw real well. I'd say the velocity was in the mid-90s pretty consistently," manager Joe Maddon said. "Really good changeup, and then he broke out the slider towards the end and had some nice sliders."

Kazmir echoed Maddon's optimism, saying his arm felt strong and he was confident about his return.

"I was throwing everything for strikes, it felt like, and with a good amount of effort," Kazmir said.

"I'm excited to go to the next step," he added. "I just want to get back out there and contribute and help the team out."

Kazmir, who led the American League in strikeouts last season, could certainly help strengthen the Rays' rotation, which currently features James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel.

While the Rays have been adamant about their ace staying on a set timetable, Kazmir said he is ready to go.

On paper, the plan is for Kazmir to throw a second bullpen session, but as he hinted Saturday, Kazmir is itching to get into a game.

"We'll know a little more tomorrow what [the Rays] are going to do, program-wise, the next couple days," Kazmir said.

But is the left-hander ready to go?

"I feel like it, I really do," Kazmir said. "If it was up to me, I'd be on the mound now."

Realistically, if the Rays opt to forgo the second bullpen session, Kazmir will likely toss in a controlled extended Spring Training game at the Minor League Complex on Friday.

"I'd throw my pitches, sit down, go for another inning," Kazmir said of his first outing's approach.

For now, Maddon said the Rays will continue to evaluate Kazmir's status on a daily basis.

"If he needs another one of those [live bullpen sessions], we'll do another one of those, and then we'll get him into some Minor League games," Maddon said. "And then if he doesn't need one of those, we might be able to get him into a Minor League game."

"I want to talk to him and the training staff and make the determination," he added.

Kazmir also acknowledged that there will be discussions throughout the week, and nothing is written in stone.

"We have a program already set up, but we are going to go talk about it see what we're going to do," he said.

"Besides that, I'm just happy that I got back on the mound and pitched to a couple hitters -- and everything felt good."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.