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Maddon ready to put Kazmir among elite
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO and KEITH NIEBUHR
Published May 18, 2006
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
WARNING TRACK POWER: Bucs receiver Joey Galloway, left, gets some advice from Rays special adviser Don Zimmer while taking BP. Galloway couldn't quite get one over the fence.
ST. PETERSBURG - Is Scott Kazmir one of the best left-handers in the American League?
Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said he believes so, and Kazmir's seven innings in Tuesday's victory over the White Sox was more proof.
"Yeah, I know, he's 22 and I know he's inexperienced in a lot of ways and I know, I know, I know," Maddon said Wednesday. "But there's no getting around how well he's pitched, and against the teams he's done it against."
Kazmir's six wins are tied for the league lead. His 2.73 ERA was fourth. After a 2-2 start, he has won four straight with just three earned runs. He beat the Red Sox twice.
Since the All-Star break, Kazmir's 13 wins were second in the AL entering Wednesday, and his 148 strikeouts and 2.76 ERA were third.
"He's among the best," Maddon said. "He ranks among the top left-handed starters in the league."
"That's great coming from your manager," Kazmir said. "But I wouldn't let anything like that get to my head. I still want to progress every time I go out there and get better."
Kazmir said he feels relaxed. He's not pressing. He has a game plan in which he is confident.
"I know there's still a lot of stuff I have to improve on," he said. "But I'm on the right track."
Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford agreed.
He said he loves Kazmir's slider, which looks like a fastball but at the last moment pulls away from hitters. He likes that Kazmir has learned to pitch to both sides of the plate and doesn't make excuses if things go badly.
"He definitely has the stuff to be one of the best pitchers in the league," Crawford said. "One thing he has to do is be consistent over time and always do the stuff that a No. 1 requires."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said, too, that he needs time.
He said Kazmir "is going to be great" but said it may be too early to label him one of the best.
"Don't put too much pressure on the kid," Guillen said. "Let the kid pitch. Let him enjoy it."
Told of Maddon's comment, Guillen said, "His manager sees him all the time. He is entitled to say that."
And Maddon did: "He has a straight change. He has a really good fastball. He can dominate both right- and left-handed hitters, so, yeah, he can be one of the best in the league."
ROCCO REPORT: Rocco Baldelli went 2-for-5 in a simulated game without aggravating his strained left hamstring. One more outing and Maddon said Baldelli could start a rehab assignment next week, more likely now with Triple-A Durham.
Maddon said Baldelli played rightfield instead of center, an experiment the team hopes will reduce how much Baldelli runs and puts stress on his leg.
ON SECOND THOUGHT: Before heading to Tropicana Field for pregame batting practice, Bucs receiver Joey Galloway jokingly told coach Jon Gruden that if things went well, he might not return. But after taking several cuts, Galloway, who was decked out in a complete Rays uniform with his No. 84 on the back, confessed, "I'll be back."
The one-time high school centerfielder, using a bat hand-picked by Crawford, reached the warning track a few times but was unable to send one into the stands.
"I was a little disappointed I didn't get one out," Galloway said. "I've got a new respect for these guys' hand strength."
MINOR MATTERS: Third baseman Sean Burroughs had two hits, including a home run, in Durham's 6-5 loss to Louisville on Tuesday, then had two more in Wednesday's 8-2 win. Outfielder Elijah Dukes was 4-for-4 with a double Wednesday, raising his average to .328. ... Shortstop B.J. Upton's 11-game errorless streak ended Tuesday.
MISCELLANY: Right-hander Jeff Niemann, who had shoulder surgery in October, pitched a two-inning simulated game. He could be sent to Montgomery in June. ... Tonight's game is at 7:10 p.m. and is on ESPN2 and FSN.