"My biggest problem was getting used to the Minor League ball," Kazmir said after throwing three innings of one-hit ball in a Florida State League game, his first Minor League rehab start.
"I didn't notice it until [catcher Dioner] Navarro said, 'Hey, you need a Major League baseball,'" Kazmir said. "I grabbed it and was like, 'Whoa, it seems a lot smaller.' I think I was choking it and not even meaning to. That first inning, I was throwing it right in the dirt. I had to adjust to that."
He didn't have to convince the St. Lucie Mets, a team he played for while with the organization in 2003 and 2004.
Kazmir hurled 47 pitches in the FSL game, 32 of of which went for strikes. He allowed just one hit -- a misplayed double by an outfielder -- and gave up an unearned run in his three innings. He struck out three and didn't walk a batter.
Of his 47 pitches, 33 were fastballs, with the majority of them topping out at 92 mph. He recorded two of his three strikeouts looking, while all three came on an offspeed pitch.
"My game is basically working off my fastball," Kazmir said after the game. "I feel like that's what I need to work on most before I get back to the Major Leagues. I just want to make sure I have that fastball command."
Kazmir, the reigning American League strikeout king, fanned 239 batters in just under 207 innings pitched in 2007. His 10.41 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second in the Majors behind Erik Bedard's 10.93.
"I kind of felt like I didn't want to do too much too soon," he said. "I was trying to stay within myself and throw strikes. I didn't want to blow it all out in the first inning."
Injured on Feb. 25 while warming up for an intrasquad game during Spring Training, Kazmir said he was amazed at how far the left elbow strain had set him back.
"It seems like just one little thing, then the next thing, you know, you have to rebuild completely. It's frustrating because I see all my teammates out there playing, and I just want to go out there and contribute as quick as possible. But I felt strong tonight and 100 percent. Other than that, everything felt good.
"Maybe in the future I can get those Major League baseballs back. The umpire said we could use them in Spring Training, but not during the [Minor League] season," Kazmir said, laughing.
St. Lucie manager Tim Teufel, in his second stint with the club, managed Kazmir for 11 starts in 2004 before the left-hander moved up to Double-A Binghamton.
"You could tell he was just tuning up and getting a night's work in," Teufel said following his team's 8-5 loss to the Vero Beach Devil Rays.
"He worked on his changeup a bit. Didn't see many curveballs, just some fastballs and changes. He worked quick and did a nice job."
The 24-year-old will make another start on Wednesday against Palm Beach, and then a final Minor League start. If everything goes according to schedule, Kazmir will come off the DL on May 2 and join the Rays in Boston for a series against the Red Sox.
Navarro, Kazmir's Rays battery-mate, started behind the plate for Vero Beach. The Venezuelan backstop sliced two fingers open on his right hand April 4 in a game at Yankee Stadium. While leaving the field, he slipped on the dugout steps and grabbed a net used to protect the players from foul balls, lacerating the middle and ring fingers. He received 12 stitches from the incident.
Navarro, acquired in a trade from the Dodgers in June of 2006, went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks and was hit by a pitch.
Bill Whitehead is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.