Scott Kazmir's Return to Tampa Bay Looming, Rays Look to Take AL East by Storm

John LongballContributor IApril 5, 2008

Scott Kazmir of the Tampa Bay Rays threw sixty pitches in the bullpen on Saturday. He is scheduled to throw batting practice on Tuesday. Kazmir strained his elbow warming up for an intersquad game on February 26. He has been sidelined with this injury throughout the spring. This progression towards a return is great news for a Rays squad that is playing without an ace. Kazmir was reported as saying he was throwing all his pitches without pain.

The Rays season has started with the usual ups and downs. Splitting the first series against the Baltimore Orioles and taking two games against the New York Yankees. At this point in time there are many young inexperienced pitchers holding down the Rays rotation. Shields, Garza, Sonnanstine and Jackson have held their own to start the season. The question is how long can the Rays keep pitching without Kazmir. In 2007 the Rays record was significantly better when Kazmir and Shields were pitching than any of the other starters who took the hill.

With Kazmir potentially returning to the rotation at the end of the month the Rays have a chance to take the AL East by storm.Assuming that Kazmir comes back to full form and encounters no setbacks, the Rays rotation be healthier than most in the AL East. The young, live arms of the Rays will be able to withstand the test of time in a long season better than those arms of the other aging teams. If any injuries do occur the Rays farm system is rich with more talent including first round draft pick David Price.

This year more than ever the Rays seem to have run support for their pitchers. The poor bullpen has often caused the Rays to lose games down the stretch. More runs and a shored up bullpen will hopefully preserve wins for the Rays starters.

It will be interesting to watch the Rays as the season plays out. Aging AL East teams will have to be looking over their shoulders as the young and talented Rays take the division by storm. It is not a long shot at all to say the Rays will finish above .500 or to say that they could make a run at the playoffs if not this year than the next.

Kazmir's progress will have to be watched carefully. His return is key to the Rays having any success this season.