By ROGER MOONEY
PORT CHARLOTTE — Scott Kazmir wanted to pitch in next month’s World Baseball classic. He wanted to wear the jersey with the “USA” across the chest. He wanted the chance to compete for his country.
The Tampa Bay Rays, though, want the left-handed pitcher healthy this season. They want Kazmir to pace himself this spring training. They want him ready by the season opener April 6 in Boston.
The Rays blocked Kazmir’s addition to the Team USA roster.
Kazmir’s not too happy.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “Being able to have ‘USA’ across your chest, being able to play for your country, that’s something you dream of. To bring home a gold medal, that’s pretty much the ultimate. It would be like playing on a ‘Dream Team.’ That’s the way it seems to me. It would have been special.”
And it might not have been a smart idea.
It was during last spring training when Kazmir felt tightness in his pitching elbow while warming up before an intrasquad game. That tightness turned into a strain, and that strain caused Kazmir to miss the rest of spring training and the first month of the season.
Kazmir had a fantastic month of May, which got him elected to the All-Star Game by the players, but there was a belief that his elbow wasn’t entirely healthy near the end of the season.
Even missing the first month of 2008, Kazmir had a full season if you include the month-long postseason. Like all the starting pitchers, he will be paced over this long spring training so as not to throw too many innings before the start of the regular season.
That wouldn’t be the case if he were to pitch for Team USA. While the WBC uses a pitch count, Kazmir would be throwing harder than he normally would during a March exhibition game.
The Rays don’t want to subject that arm to such stress this early in the year.
That’s one of the drawbacks to the WBC. It forces players to play at midseason form before they are even ready to begin the regular season.
Even first baseman Carlos Peña, who won’t play for the Dominican Republic because of minor surgery to repair two tears in his lower abdominal muscle, admitted he would take ground balls with a little more gusto if he were wearing his native “DR” on his jersey instead of the Rays’ blue spring training jerseys.
So you can see why the Rays aren’t willing to take that chance with Kazmir. Last year’s arm troubles are still very fresh in their minds.
Having a chance to pitch your country to a gold medal during international competition is a wonderful thing. Pitching them to a World Series title, though, has to be a tad more exciting.
At least it’s more important in the eyes of the Rays front office.
The Rays want Kazmir pitching important games in October, you know, during the real World Series.