tampabay.com

Consistency helps Kazmir come of age

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published August 20, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - As well as the team has played since the All-Star break, that is how well Scott Kazmir has pitched.

In his past six games, tonight's starter is 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA that, entering Friday, was fourth in the AL.

"He's not pitching like a rookie," manager Lou Piniella said. "He's gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season."

Most impressive are the 21 walks in 381/3 innings, especially considering Kazmir led the league entering Friday with 77.

"It's just getting consistent. That's all it is," said the left-hander, 21, who has struck out 41 during that stretch.

"I'm just using all my pitches and being more consistent in the strike zone. It helps out big time. You see all the big-name pitchers, their mechanics are almost flawless every time."

Toward that end, Kazmir has used his up-and-down warmup to work on his release point. The break allows him to analyze and develop consistency.

"Now I already have it instead of looking for it in the first innings," said Kazmir, 6-8 with a 4.04 ERA overall. "It just makes it a lot easier to get focused into the game a lot earlier."

"He's attacking the plate. He's not nibbling," catcher Toby Hall said. "He's going to be a No. 1 horse one day if he's able to keep it up."

LUGO ON WAIVERS: The Rays put shortstop Julio Lugo on waivers this week but pulled him off after a claim by the Yankees, not the Phillies as ESPN reported. With Derek Jeter in New York, the Yankees clearly were trying to block Lugo from going elsewhere. Passing any player though waivers makes them easier to trade.

A HOT TOPIC: Piniella has said for a while that fans who come to see the new and improved Rays "will get their money's worth." Perhaps they are starting to notice.

The manager said he fielded a lot of questions about the team Thursday at a golf course.

"Last year when we got on a little run, I was getting a lot of talk, a lot of conversation about the team. That's basically what happened (Thursday)," he said. "Everybody wanted to talk about the Devil Rays. It was a really nice thing to hear."

He said it also is coming from other teams.

"They like the fact we get after it for nine innings. ... I'm getting asked a lot about Jonny Gomes lately. They like his demeanor, his cockiness."

MINOR MATTERS: Outfielder Garrett Groce and pitcher Wade Davis of Class-A Hudson Valley were named New York-Penn League All-Stars for Tuesday's game. Groce entered Friday batting .328 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs. Davis was 6-1 with a 2.78 ERA. ... Hudson Valley right-hander Wade Townsend allowed six runs on six hits in three innings and walked five against Staten Island. ... Right-hander Jeff Niemann pitched three innings and allowed one run on one hit with four strikeouts for Double-A Montgomery against Tennessee. ... Friday, Dewon Brazelton allowed six runs on six hits with four walks in 41/3 innings for Triple-A Durham against Charlotte.

MISCELLANY: Joe Borowski's 161/3 consecutive scoreless innings are one off the Rays record for a reliever set by Al Levine and 12/3 off the overall mark set by starter Rolando Arrojo. ... At 4-2 and with two games left, Tampa Bay ensured its first nonlosing season against Texas. ... Danys Baez leads the majors with 14 saves since the All-Star break. ... Lugo was in the lineup after missing two starts with a sore hand and has 32 stolen bases after stealing second and third in the fifth inning. ... The Rangers had some excitement Thursday after their plane landed at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. Rangers director of travel Chris Lyngos said an air-conditioning valve broke and a small amount of smoke entered the cabin. Fire trucks were called as a precaution. ... Sunday's Dine With the Devil Rays charity event is sold out. ... Today's Christian music concert begins at 2:30 p.m. Tickets for the ballgame or a package that includes the concert can be purchased at the box office.