Tampa Bay Rays
Less Stress, More Innings For Kazmir
SARASOTA - With his penchant for throwing too many pitches and getting twisted up over his mechanics, Scott Kazmir is the Rays starting pitcher who gives fans the most anxiety. Two recent mediocre spring starts, one of which came in a minor-league game, did little to inspire confidence this will be the season the 2007 American League strikeout champion taps his full potential and joins the game's very best left-handers. But Kazmir wants the record to show he feels good entering the season. And he looked good Sunday, turning in his best outing of the spring by allowing two runs on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He did hit two batters. "I'm very confident," the 25-year-old said after Tampa Bay's 11-2 romp against Cincinnati. "My arm feels incredible."Kazmir even swung the bat well, as he got the chance to hit because the game was in a National League ballpark. He went 2-for-3 with three RBIs, getting two of them on a double over left fielder Chris Dickerson's head in the fourth inning. When he got his double, the Rays clubhouse erupted. "It would have been better if I saw the ball and actually knew what I was doing, but I'll take it," Kazmir said of the double. Rays manager Joe Maddon was encouraged by Kazmir's 95-pitch outing. "I thought it was very good," he said. "That's what we were talking about - getting great repetition of his delivery and quality strikes down in the zone with his fastball. That was the sharpest I've seen his slider in a long time, and the change-up was good, too. "He had control of his body, and thus the pitches were in the right spot." Ever concerned about his mechanics and delivery, Kazmir said he found something new he thinks could make a major difference. "There were a couple of things I was working on during my last bullpen," he said. "Pitching coach Jim Hickey and I were working on a couple of drills to keep my head still. It really helped. I found myself going in and out of it, but the good part was I could see improvement." In his two previous starts, Kazmir had allowed four earned runs on eight hits against the Cardinals on March 19 and four runs on six hits against the Orioles' Triple-A team Tuesday, when his turn to pitch came and the Rays were off. He said Sunday he was fine tuning his slider and "working on what I was feeling when I wasn't throwing strikes" rather than concentrating on getting outs. Sunday, Kazmir allowed three infield hits and made one mistake with a slider that Jay Bruce teed off on for a two-run homer in the third inning. He said Bruce set him up, making him think he was expecting a fastball. Kazmir has one final exhibition start scheduled Friday at Philadelphia. Sunday was promising. "I felt like it was a little easier to get the ball where I wanted it to go," he said.
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.