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Kazmir learning that he has a lot more to learn

The Rays' gifted left-hander struggles to find the strike zone in his first loss, 4-2 to the Tigers.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published September 4, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Apparently there is more to this process than Scott Kazmir bargained for.

Not that the Devil Rays pitcher expected to walk into the majors and dominate. But after the hard-throwing left-hander won his first start last month, two tough outings, including Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Tigers at Tropicana Field, caused him to reassess.

"As I'm going through it, yes, that's what it feels like," he said when asked if there was a learning process. "It's frustrating when you're not finding your zone or whatever, and it's just not being consistent. But it will come around."

It came around in spurts in Kazmir's first appearance at home. The 20-year-old allowed four runs in five innings with seven strikeouts and a disturbing six walks.

It was Kazmir's first loss. It was Tampa Bay's seventh straight, matching its season high, and 17th in its past 22. Still, it was a huge improvement over Thursday's embarrassing 13-2 loss to the Orioles.

There also was a feel-good moment when Tampa Bay's Danys Baez relieved in the ninth inning in front of his parents, who, after a five-year wait, were able to leave Cuba and see their son, who defected in 1999.

Travis Harper also pitched well in relief, three scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

"We didn't play a bad ballgame," manager Lou Piniella said. "We just didn't hit."

Tampa Bay was held to four by pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Jamie Walker and Esteban Yan. Bonderman allowed the four singles in seven innings and struck out eight.

The Rays have 12 hits in their past three games, and on the four-game homestand they were outhit 54-23 and outscored 35-10.

This is how badly things are going.

Marcus Thames' second-inning popup hit a wire hanging from a catwalk and fell fair. Rays shortstop Julio Lugo picked up the ball and stepped on third ahead of Craig Monroe, who advanced from second while Carlos Pena moved from first. But Thames had been called out on the infield fly rule, which removed the force on the bases and meant Lugo needed to tag Monroe.

Monroe scored on a passed ball that went through catcher Toby Hall's legs. Brandon Inge tripled to score Pena, and it was 2-0.

"They screwed up," Piniella said of the Tigers, "and we didn't tag anybody."

Dmitri Young made it 4-0 in the third inning when he crushed Kazmir's hanging changeup for a two-run homer. That also had an interesting twist.

"I coached him in the Perfect Game Tournament in Jupiter," Young said. "The kid has a lot of good stuff."

"He's got to learn a few things," Piniella said of Kazmir. "He competes out there. Look, that's asking a lot of any 20-year-old to be up here. Hopefully, this month will get him ready for the next spring. That's really what it's all about."

It's also about consistency.

Kazmir struck out Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez and Young in the first inning. But couldn't hit his spots in the second.

"I don't know what happened," Kazmir said. "A lot of pitches I was just leaving up the whole time. I was fighting myself, it felt like."

Kazmir's next start likely will be next week in New York against the Yankees. A special game, because the Rays acquired Kazmir from the Mets.

"I'll definitely be up for that game," he said. "That will definitely be one to look forward to."

That, too, is part of the process.

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