"Kaz is a huge part of what we're doing," manager Joe Maddon said after the 25-year-old made his first start in over a month Friday night, working five innings in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Marlins.
"He's one of the better left-handed pitchers in the American League," Maddon added. "And to get back there [World Series], we need him to pitch and perform at his level."
Carlos Pena hit his AL-leading 23rd home run and Willy Aybar broke a ninth-inning tie with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly, as the Rays (41-35) won their fourth straight to climb a season-best six games over .500.
J.P. Howell (4-2) pitched the ninth for the victory. Kazmir wasn't involved in the decision, but took a step forward.
"I was just anxious to get out there. I wanted to go out there and prove something," the Rays' all-time leader in wins and strikeouts said. "My efficiency wasn't where I wanted it to be. But at the same time, I felt like the spots that I missed, it wasn't that bad."
Brett Carroll homered for Florida, however the Marlins went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and have gone 1 for 16 in those situations in dropping the first two games of the weekend Citrus Series.
The Marlins, who lost Friday night's opener when the Rays scored four in the eighth to win 7-3, fell to 1-4 against Tampa Bay.
"Sometimes you match up differently with certain teams. They're an athletic club," Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You know what, these two last games, they could have gone either way. They're a tough group of guys."
Kazmir, an All-Star last season, allowed two runs and four hits in five innings. He threw 61 of his 92 pitches for strikes, walked one and struck out five, including Chris Coghlan three times.
Marlins starter Chris Volstad gave up Pena's solo homer in the fourth and a RBI bunt single to B.J. Upton in the fifth. The right-hander yielded five hits in six innings, walked three and fanned five before leaving a 2-2 tie to the bullpen.
"Two well played games so far in the series," Volstad said. "We just happen to be on the wrong side of each of them."
Kazmir, who's 4-4 with a 7.28 ERA, had not pitched in the majors since allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 innings of a loss to Oakland on May 20. He worked on pitching mechanics the past month and felt good about the adjustments he's made following a pair of rehab outings in the minor leagues.
"The repetition of his delivery, I really like that a lot," Maddon said. "I just thought he had a better feeling that if he needed to throw a strike he could tonight, whereas in the past I don't think he necessarily had that feeling."
The first inning has been a problem for the left-hander, and he fell behind quickly again this time with the Marlins taking a 1-0 lead without getting a hit. Carroll's third homer of the season made it 2-0 in the third.
Fifteen of the 30 walks Kazmir has allowed this year have come in the first inning, and he has trailed after one inning in his each of his four losses. Emilio Bonifacio drew an early pass Saturday, then stole second and third before scoring Florida's first run when Hanley Ramirez grounded out.
Ramirez, who went 0 for 4 to end an eight-game hitting streak, has driven in 14 runs in his last five games.
- Tropicana Field is the only park in the majors where a home run has been hit in every game this season.
- Pena's homer was his 100th as a Ray and moved him ahead of Fred McGriff into second place on the club's career list behind Aubrey Huff (128).
- With Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom (right elbow sprain) out, Gonzalez said right-hander Leo Nunez and left-hander Dan Meyer could get some save opportunities.