Orioles crushed Kazmir's mistakes

The big hits off the young starter came with two strikes.

Published April 4, 2006

BALTIMORE - Location, location, location.

It doesn't matter how well one is throwing or how many two-strikes counts are mustered. If a pitch is in the wrong place, major-league hitters will make you pay.

The Orioles schooled Devil Rays starter Scott Kazmir Monday as seven of eight hits off the left-hander, including three home runs, came with two strikes.

The worst offense: Luis Matos' homer to lead off the fifth on an 0-and-2 slider.

"I have to work on my 0-2 approach," said Kazmir, who gave up six runs with three walks in four innings during Baltimore's 9-6 victory at Camden Yards.

"You just don't give guys pitches that good. Matos' was right down the middle. That's just not getting it done."

It was a historymaking day for Kazmir, who at 22 years, 69 days was the seventh-youngest opening-day starter since 1970. But it also was a missed opportunity to bury concerns about the 9.24 ERA, 13 earned runs, 12 walks and 22 hits he allowed in 122/3 spring innings.

Still, manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Mike Butcher said he threw well. They liked his velocity, the late life on his fastball and his consistency in the strike zone.

"It comes down to pitch execution," Butcher said. "I don't put a whole lot of weight into what he did in spring training because he put up some pretty good numbers last year. The walks were the issue and he's in the zone. I fully expect him to come back from this outing and pitch a good game."

So does Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar.

"He's going to be one of the top lefties in the league," he said. "He's got a great arm. He's mixing in his slider and he's got a changeup.

"He is the one guy over there who can shut you down. But we battled him and that's what you have to do. You have to wait him out and wait him out and hopefully you get a mistake."

And as leftfielder Jeff Conine pointed out: "We didn't miss many mistakes."

Designated hitter Javy Lopez's two-out, run-scoring triple came on an 0-and-2 pitch. Home runs by Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora, who parked his after Matos, came at 1-and-2.

Kazmir, whom trainer Ron Porterfield checked in the second inning for an apparent harmless twinge in his lower back, threw 104 pitches, 66 for strikes.

Maddon attributed part of the high count to the foul balls caused by the movement of Kazmir's fastball. Perhaps, but the total looks enormous compared with the 91 pitches Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez threw in seven innings.

"I wouldn't pinpoint one thing," Kazmir said. "When I have to bury something, I need to bury it instead of hanging it up there with two strikes."

"Location is everything with him," Rays catcher Toby Hall said. "Otherwise, he looked good."