Kaz Ready For Texas

The Tampa Bay Rays have been nearly unbeatable at home of late. With Scott Kazmir on the mound, they might be even better.

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The Rays hope Kazmir can give them another dominant performance Monday when they open a three-game set against Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Tampa Bay -170 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on Tampa Bay -170 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Tampa Bay (30-20), which has the best record in the AL, has won 15 of its last 16 games at home after sweeping a three-game set with Baltimore over the weekend. The Rays capped the sweep with Sunday's 5-4 victory as Evan Longoria drive in the winning run with a double in the bottom of the ninth.

"We're playing together," said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who went 5-for-7 with a homer and six RBIs in the sweep of the Orioles. "We're playing as a team. It's a great chemistry, so when you win, it's so much fun. It's a blast coming to the ballpark every single day."

Kazmir (3-1, 1.57 ERA) will try to keep the Rays rolling. The left-hander is 3-0 while allowing one run and 10 hits with 17 strikeouts in 19 innings over his last three starts. During that span, he's given up only six hits in 12 shutout innings over two starts at Tropicana Field.

Kazmir was terrific again Tuesday, allowing a run and four hits with a season-high eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 3-2 win at Oakland. However, he still feels there's room for improvement after missing all of April on the disabled list with an elbow strain.

"I felt good, but I still feel like I have a couple more steps to take," Kazmir told the team's official Web site. "I feel like I'm not out there yet; I'm not extending my arm as much as I can and using my leg."

Kazmir is 1-0 with a 2.05 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 22 innings over four starts against Texas (26-26) - all wins for the Rays.

Hamilton, meanwhile, was expected to be a big part of the Rays' future when they drafted him first overall in 1999. Injuries and drug addiction curtailed those hopes when he was released after the 2005 season before playing a game in the majors.

The slugger, who will be playing his first game against Tampa, eventually overcame his problems and had a solid rookie season with Cincinnati in 2007, hitting .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 90 games. Although Hamilton was bothered by a wrist injury with the Reds, the Rangers opted to trade two pitchers for him and make him their starting center fielder.

That move has paid off in a big way as Hamilton leads baseball with 53 RBIs while batting .333 with a team-high 12 homers. He's been on a tear in the last 10 games, going 21-for-43 (.488) with four homers and nine RBIs.

Hamilton, though, went 0-for-2 in Sunday's 2-1, 10-inning win over Cleveland before being ejected for arguing a third strike in the sixth inning.

Tampa Bay went 5-4 against the Rangers last season, including a three-game sweep at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex from May 15-17, 2007. The Rays have won six of the last seven home matchups.

Texas hopes Sidney Ponson (3-0, 2.95 ERA) can help it climb above .500 for the first time since it was 5-4 on April 10.

The right-hander threw a six-hitter in a 10-1 win over Minnesota on Wednesday for his first complete game since April 24, 2005.

"He's certainly got the stuff. There's no doubt about that," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It's just how serious he goes out there and takes it."

Ponson has helped the Rangers to wins in four of his six starts since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma on April 26. He's 6-5 with a 3.96 ERA in 15 career starts at Tampa Bay.

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