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It's not just health that ails Rays

A club hit by a virus has no cure for clutch woes, a shaky Kazmir start.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 19, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - A virus working its way through the clubhouse left the Devil Rays sick and tired going into Wednesday's matinee with the Orioles. A 6-4 loss after a 3-hour and 4-minute, 304-pitch, painstakingly slow-paced game only left them feeling worse.

"We did play like we had the flu today," manager Joe Maddon said. "We did not play well."

The virus forced Akinori Iwamura out of the lineup and left several other players, including infielders B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist a combined 0-for-7 with four strikeouts, at considerably less than full strength. A 3-1 lead that got away and an inefficient day - 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position - against ace Erik Bedard and Baltimore's bolstered bullpen (one run allowed in the series) didn't help.

But the biggest problem for the Rays (6-9) was the surprising ineffectiveness of ace starter Scott Kazmir, who labored through 102 pitches while lasting only four innings.

"Kaz struggled a little bit, and when that happens the team kind of struggles with him," leftfielder Carl Crawford said.

Kazmir didn't have any specific reasons for his poor outing, which looked even worse coming off his brilliant performance Friday in Minnesota when he outdueled Johan Santana.

How different was he?

Wednesday, Kazmir threw 102 pitches in four innings, as opposed to 113 in eight. He walked four, as opposed to none for the only time in his career. He started seven of 20 hitters with strikes, as opposed to 19 of 30.

"I couldn't get in a groove," he said. "My mechanics were inconsistent. All in all, I just couldn't find the zone. I just kind of felt gassed from the very beginning."

His velocity was down several miles an hour, clocking mostly in the 88-91 range, and his command, specifically of his change-up and slider, was noticeably off.

"Kaz was not his normal self, no question about it," Maddon said. "He was struggling a little bit. He did not have a nice tempo or rhythm going."

The Orioles recognized early that Kazmir didn't have his best stuff. "We did a great job laying off a lot of pitches," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We got his pitch count up there."

What Kazmir, 23, still has to learn, Maddon said, is how to pitch well when that happens.

"More than anything, (it's) youthfulness I think," Maddon said. "A lack of experience. As he gets more experience I think he'll pitch better on days he doesn't feel it."

Despite Kazmir's short outing, Gary Glover's rough relief stint (three runs and four hits in 22/3 innings) and the poor offensive showing, the Rays - who began the day leading the majors in runs - had opportunities to go into today's off day feeling good.

Tied at 4, they started the fourth with two on and none out but got nothing after Josh Paul failed to get down a bunt. Crawford lashed a one-out triple in the fifth but got nowhere. They got two on with one out in the sixth but failed to get anything.

"In spite of all the bad things that happened," Maddon said. "We still gave ourselves a chance to win it."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.