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Elder statesman Kazmir embraces chance to lead

PHOENIX -- At the tender age of 30, Scott Kazmir has at least four years on any other member of the club's starting staff.

"That's new to me," a smiling Kazmir said on reporting day, "but it's something we're going to have fun with."

The left-hander, who signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the A's in December, has been in Arizona since Sunday, allowing him nearly a full week to get to know his new teammates before Saturday's first workout for pitchers and catchers commences.

Kazmir sounded like a kid readying for his first day of school, despite entering his 10th Major League season. It's that experience which more than qualifies him for veteran status, even though "I still don't feel like the veteran, the old man," he said.

"He wants to be a big part of this rotation, and if that means being a leader, with some of the experiences he's had, so be it," said manager Bob Melvin. "We don't really target any one person as a leader, but we have quite a few, and he certainly could add to that mix."

Melvin is without an ace on his staff, but that doesn't take away from its quality. The A's have a deep rotation without a No. 1 guy, but also realize this could be the year Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray prove their worth as one.

Kazmir, less than two years removed from pitching in the Independent League, will join them at the front end of the rotation, while A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily enter camp as the leading candidates to secure the back.

Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom will all be stretched out as starters and remain in the mix.

Kazmir went 10-9 for Cleveland on a one-year, $1 million deal last year, including 7-5 with a 3.06 ERA in his final 18 starts. Of his 162 strikeouts, 43 came in the final month of the season.

That's when he most resembled the All-Star pitcher who posted a 3.61 ERA in his first five years with the Rays, before injuries and mechanical issues derailed him from the big league path after just one start for the Angels in 2011.

"He started out pretty well and had some bumps in the road, and I think he's better for it," Melvin said of the former first-round Draft pick. "He'll probably tell you that too. The way he ended last season has probably been his best work, and he looks to improve upon that."

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

He'll have the chance to do that with an A's team he described as "a confident, laid-back group of guys that went out and got it done and had fun doing it."

"I'm very excited," he said. "I feel like the team got a lot better. I feel like the AL West has really improved all around, so it's going to be a challenge, but at the same time, from what I get so far, we're a real loose team that can go out and have fun."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.
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