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Kazmir's arm godsend to Rays
Despite his small frame, the 21-year-old left-hander can overpower hitters like few pitchers in the game.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 12, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - There are varying theories on how Scott Kazmir generates the velocity on his fastball.
The Devil Rays left-hander, listed generously at 6 feet, 170 pounds, said he believes the fluidity of his motion lets him rev it up to 96 mph.
Manager Lou Piniella credited arm speed and arm extension, much like he saw from his former Yankees teammate, the svelte 5-11 Ron Guidry.
Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez agreed but added another ingredient.
"You see the sky up here?" Hernandez said before Friday's game against the Twins at Progress Energy Park.
"There's a guy named God. God blessed him with a good arm. That's how he throws hard. I swear to you, anything more than that, it's bull."
Whatever the cause, the effect is Kazmir, 21, has a spot in the Rays' starting rotation.
Seeing what the Houston native can do over an entire season will be as intriguing as watching what he accomplished last season in eight games.
That the New York papers and Mets fans are still smacking their foreheads in disbelief at the July trade that sent New York's top prospect to the Rays for pitcher Victor Zambrano adds to the entertainment.
Kazmir refused to get sucked into that fray even after stories resurfaced this spring that the Mets were worried Kazmir's mechanics made him injury-prone, and that Kazmir got on the wrong side of some veterans by changing the clubhouse music.
"I feel like I'm in the best situation I can be in right now for my career, and I'm going to go with it," Kazmir said. "I'm not going to live in the past. I don't even know if I'd have a shot with the Mets this year. I definitely look at this as a positive."
There were plenty of positives last season, especially for someone who, after being acquired, started just four games for Double-A Montgomery before being promoted to the majors.
Kazmir made seven starts and went 2-3 with 41 strikeouts in 331/3 innings. He beat the Mariners with five shutout innings in his first start and retired his first batter, Ichiro Suzuki, on a groundout. He beat the Red Sox and Pedro Martinez in Fenway Park, striking out nine in six innings.
But Kazmir walked 21, including six in five innings against the Tigers. He gave up seven runs in two innings against the Blue Jays. And his 5.67 ERA was more than a run above the league average.
Some of that is just learning how to pitch, managing situations, using some guile instead of power.
"He's young. He needs experience," Piniella said. "But he has arm strength. He's got some doggedness about him. He competes well. We look for Kazmir to continue to grow and develop as a pitcher, and we're going to do it at the big-league level."
Kazmir said he didn't always want to pitch. He said he played centerfield until about age 12, when a community league coach noticed his arm strength and converted him.
Kazmir said the coach taught him a windup and told him to practice in front of a mirror.
"The next thing you know," Kazmir said, "I'm pitching and doing pretty good."
Kazmir was Baseball America's 2002 high school player of the year after going 11-2 with a 0.37 ERA as a senior at Cypress Falls High. In 75 innings he allowed 19 hits and 19 walks and struck out 175.
Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann, who went to Houston's Lamar High, said he is thankful he never faced Kazmir but grateful he played a game on Kazmir's AAU team.
"My senior summer we got knocked out of the playoffs and his team picked me up," Niemann said. "Very impressive. He was a year younger than me, and with his stuff, it was unbelievable. It hasn't changed much since then."
"You certainly see a high ceiling for him," Piniella said.
You also see the nasty slider and the changeup that is becoming a bigger part of his repertoire. Mostly, though, you see that 96 mph fastball.
"I don't know," Kazmir said when asked how he throws it so fast. "I'd like to figure that out myself."