tampabay.com

Bullpen may beckon struggling Brazelton

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published May 7, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Dewon Brazelton is ready to accept his fate. The Devil Rays starter lost a third straight decision Friday and lasted just 32/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to the Twins at Tropicana Field.

Manager Lou Piniella said he might send Brazelton to the bullpen, though he will "sleep on it" before making a final decision. Brazelton, 1-6 with a 6.03 ERA, said he will not complain.

"If you pitch like that, that's where you belong," he said. "There's no story. There's nothing else I need to say."

Brazelton predicted he would make his mark this season, and he was Tampa Bay's opening-day starter. But in seven starts, Brazelton has allowed 25 earned runs and 42 hits in 371/3 innings with 23 walks and 23 strikeouts. And he still has never won on the road.

Brazelton was removed with two outs in the fourth inning after walking No. 9 batter Jason Bartlett for the second time. In the third inning, Brazelton walked Bartlett and Shannon Stewart before giving up Joe Mauer's three-run home run.

"When you walk the ninth hitter and walk the next guy, you kind of get what you deserve," Brazelton said.

Brazelton could not pinpoint a problem. Piniella mentioned a glitch in Brazelton's mechanics.

The bottom line is, "He's struggling," Piniella said. "Sometimes when you're struggling, the best thing to do is get out of the line of fire a little bit and work on some things out of the bullpen."

BOTTOM FEEDERS: Aubrey Huff, Josh Phelps, Eduardo Perez, Travis Lee, Julio Lugo and Jorge Cantu have batted cleanup this season without a home run from that spot. According to STATS Inc., eight other teams since 1980 have gone at least 30 games to start a season without a cleanup home run. The record is 61 by the 1997 Astros.

Stranger, Tampa Bay's No. 9 hitters have hit seven home runs. The Rays have never gotten more than 10 from that position, and the rest of the AL, entering Friday, had 11.

"Who knows," said third baseman Alex Gonzalez, who has one of the No. 9 homers. "Hopefully when I'm in there, it continues."

THROW HIM A BONE: Scott Kazmir has pitched 19 innings with 19 strikeouts and a 2.82 ERA his past three starts but has lost two and had a no-decision.

The lefthander, 0-3, who pitches tonight, said he is not frustrated. But Piniella said, "We need to win a ballgame for him."

Kazmir has done his part, refining his mechanics and making his changeup a better complement to a 95-mph fastball.

"I'm throwing my offspeed pitches more for strikes and keeping some hitters off my fastball," he said. "It allows me to work both sides (of the plate) a little better.

"Having good mechanics right now, I don't have to fight it. I can just throw it where I want to and pitch my game."

WATCHFUL EYE: Kazmir said he watched closely Twins starter Johan Santana, last season's AL Cy Young Award winner.

"Seeing what he does on certain counts. Seeing his approach," Kazmir said. "Late in innings he might start pitching a little backward, just mixing it up real good."

Piniella said before the game he doesn't mind Kazmir watching but added, "I can watch Henry Aaron swing for a long time, too, and when I go up I swing like Lou Piniella. You have to do what you do and get better at what you're doing."

After Santana dominated, Piniella said he told Kazmir, "That's what we want."

MISCELLANY: Reliever Jesus Colome (shoulder) is scheduled to throw today at extended spring training. Piniella said if the right-hander is comfortable, he likely will be activated off the disabled list Monday. ... Reliever Rob Bell has allowed six home runs in his past five outings. ... Piniella said he expects Major League Baseball in the next few days to hear the appeals of pitchers Brazelton and Lance Carter, who were suspended after the brawl with the Red Sox.