The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Newcomer LHP Kazmir a veteran presence on AL West champion Athletics

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PHOENIX - Scott Kazmir is walking into a different situation with the Oakland Athletics and a most different role.

At 30, he finds himself as a veteran presence on a team full of young talent.

Kazmir signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the A's as a free agent.

"It's the first time that I've ever been probably four or five years older than everyone on the starting staff," he said. "That's new to me, but it's something we're going to have fun with. I got to meet all the guys so far and it's going to be a fun year."

Less than two years removed from pitching in an independent league, the left-hander is the newest member of Oakland's starting rotation.

The two-time AL West champions reported to spring training Friday for physicals, and team workouts will begin Saturday.

Kazmir went 10-9 for Cleveland last season on a one-year, $1 million contract. He struck out 162 in 158 innings and had a 4.04 ERA over 29 starts. He walked only 47 in his first full season since 2010 with the Los Angeles Angels.

A former No. 1 draft pick, Kazmir was a two-time All-Star over five-plus seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. He never had a season in which he lost more games than he won until 2010 with the Angels.

Kazmir had started losing velocity on his pitches before that season because of various arm injuries that plagued him from 2008-11. But in 2013, Kazmir found his groove again and got back the zip on his fastball.

"This was a guy who when he first came up with Tampa, was one of those crown jewels, a left-handed guy with plus-plus velocity," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Started out pretty well and then had some bumps in the road, and I think he's probably better for it."

Melvin said he hasn't slotted Kazmir in the rotation yet and hasn't announced his starter for the opener.

"Whoever we start on opening day could pitch one, two, three, four or five," Melvin said, referring to the rotation's order. "It's just having quality guys."

The top rotation candidates along with Kazmir are Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Jarrod Parker. Kazmir is the only lefty in the group.

Kazmir is eager to show that he can put in another strong season at full strength. He was particularly effective in the second half of last season.

"I always feel like I'm kind of going to have a chip on my shoulder just from everything that kind of went on," Kazmir said. "I feel like there's going to be always something to prove."

Kazmir said he's excited about the A's roster and looks forward to the challenge of competing for supremacy of the AL West with big-spending clubs like Texas, Los Angeles and Seattle. He's not looking to put much pressure on himself to lead the pitching staff.

"Just do my job, that's all I can do," he said. "Help the guys whenever they need help, just be there for everyone. Once everyone comes together it's going to be a great atmosphere."

NOTES: Relief pitcher Sean Doolittle is dealing with a right calf strain and will be held back from throwing on Saturday, but Melvin expects him to recover quickly. ... Pitcher Ryan Cook has right shoulder inflammation that isn't believed to be too serious and will be limited in the spring, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. ... Melvin sees LHP Tommy Milone as a contender for a spot in the starting rotation. He'll also take a look at LHP Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Josh Lindblom.

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