Scott Kazmir flashed the same bright smile as he did a lifetime ago, when he was the cornerstone of Tampa Bay's pitching staff. His chin sported the same weak stubble of someone who still struggles to grow a beard.

His left arm is alive with a mid-90s fastball, and the strikeouts are piling up at more than one an inning.

On the surface, the guy who wears No. 26 for the Cleveland Indians appears similar to the one who wore No. 19 for the Devil Rays and then the Rays.

Ah, but this Scott Kazmir is an old soul.

He's 29, still plenty young for a left-hander with good stuff.

But Kazmir was released by one organization one game into the season, spent a summer playing for an Independent League team and forced open a door that led back to the big leagues while pitching in Puerto Rico during the winter.

So, this Kazmir, who allowed a run in seven innings Thursday night in a victory against the visiting Cincinnati Reds, said he is nothing like the one who used to toil under the dome at Tropicana Field, raising pitch counts and dashing hopes.

“I think I'm way better, just from the fact how tight my delivery is now,” Kazmir said before Friday's game against the Rays. “I'm developing more pitches and attacking the strike zone for the most part.”

Oh, he's not all the way back.

Kazmir said his curveball needs more work, needs to be more consistent.

“Once I get that down, I feel like I'll be a little more of a complete pitcher than I was with the Rays,” Kazmir said.

There was a time when Kazmir was one of the faces of the Devil Rays organization. He and Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were the hope of better things to come.

Kazmir was an All-Star in 2006 and again in 2008 when he earned the win for the American League in relief. He led the American League in strikeouts in 2007.

There was that memorable moment in February 2008 when Kazmir predicted the Rays would be playing that October. A quick check of the schedule showed the Rays' season was supposed to end Sept. 28.