Kazmir set to rock Orioles

Kazmir set to rock in first Opening Day start

Joe Maddon takes over as the Devil Rays manager, becoming the fourth skipper in team history. Among Maddon's first significant decisions was to name Scott Kazmir as his Opening Day starter.

Kazmir ended the 2005 season on a high note by posting a 3-0 mark in September with a 1.71 ERA in five starts, holding opponents to a .204 average.

"This is a dream for me, to be the leader of the staff going into the season," Kazmir said. "[It's] everything I wanted and hoped for."

At 22 years, two months and 10 days, Kazmir becomes the youngest Opening Day starter since Dwight Gooden, who was 21, opened for the Mets in 1986. Kazmir is the Rays' eighth Opening Day starter in nine seasons; he joins Wilson Alvarez (1998-99), Steve Trachsel (2000), Albie Lopez (2001), Tanyon Sturtze (2002), Joe Kennedy (2003), Victor Zambrano (2004) and Dewon Brazelton (2005).

In 2005, Kazmir established a club record with 174 strikeouts and his 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings tied Randy Johnson for third best in the American League. After the All-Star break, Kazmir had a 7-2 record with a 2.79 ERA; he finished the season at 10-9 with a 3.77 ERA.

Prior to Maddon taking over, the company line regarding Kazmir said he had the stuff to be pitch in the top slot, but the club didn't want to subject him to the pressures of the spot at such a young age.

"I think he's going to be fine," Maddon said. "That was the largest concern that I had, how would he handle it personally. And just meeting him and talking to him, the look in his eye, I think he's going to be fine and I think it's going to make him a better pitcher.

"In a situation like this, when you're going to give him this opportunity to be the Opening Day starter, I think it's going to stretch him and make him more confident and it's going to be good for the Rays."

Maddon went on to say he felt Kazmir was mature for his age.

Kazmir doesn't consider pitching in the top spot to be any kind of burden.

"I'm just going to take being out there like being in any other spot," Kazmir said. "I'm not going to change anything. Just pitching on a different day. That's all it is."

Rodrigo Lopez will start for the Orioles.

Lopez, who won 15 games last season, is 51-40 in four seasons with Baltimore, a shocking run for a pitcher who seemed to come from nowhere. Lopez pitched in the Mexican League in 2001 and signed with the Orioles as a Minor League free agent that winter. With the exception of some struggles in 2003, he's been one of Baltimore's best pitchers since.

The Rays went 6-12 against the Orioles in 2005 and 2-7 at Camden Yards.

After finishing their three-game series against the Orioles, the Rays travel to Toronto to play three games before heading to Tropicana Field for the home opener against the Orioles April 10.

  Devil Rays probable lineup
1.SSJulio Lugo
2.LFCarl Crawford
3.2BJorge Cantu
4.3BAubrey Huff
5.DHJonny Gomes
6.1BTravis Lee
7.CToby Hall
8.RFDamon Hollins
9.CFJoey Gathright
PScott Kazmir

Pitching matchup
TB: LHP Scott Kazmir
• 10-9, 3.77 ERA in 2005
• 2-1, 3.33 ERA in 2005 vs. BAL
• 2-1, 3.33 ERA lifetime vs. BAL

BAL: RHP Rodrigo Lopez
• 15-12, 4.90 ERA in 2005
• 2-1, 4.71 ERA in 2005 vs. TB
• 8-4, 3.55 ERA lifetime vs. TB

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
TB: WHNZ 1250 AM

On deck
• Wednesday: at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: at Toronto, 7:07 p.m. ET

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