tampabay.com

A little goes long way in Rays loss

"So many little things,'' Maddon says as the skid continues.

By JOANNE KORTH
Published May 23, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - After yet another abbreviated outing, Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir believes an early release is to blame for his rash of early exits from games.

The shaky bullpen and sluggish offense will have to solve their own problems.

The Rays (18-26) have lost 10 of their past 14, including six of seven and five straight at Tropicana Field, and there was plenty of blame to go around after Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Mariners.

"There are so many little things we need to tighten up," manager Joe Maddon said. "We just have to get better in certain areas. It was a tough night."

Staked to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Kazmir left after the fifth with the score tied at 2 and his pitch count soaring. The one-time Rays ace has lasted fewer than six innings in four of 10 starts, including the past two. And he's tired of it.

"It's very frustrating," Kazmir said.

Kazmir's official line: Five innings, four hits, two earned runs, three walks and four strikeouts. He threw 92 pitches, 59 of which were strikes, and dropped his ERA a hair from 3.83 to 3.81. Yet, his record remains 2-2 and his command a smidgen off.

This time last year, Kazmir was 7-2 with a 2.39 ERA.

"If you see where my ball ends up most of the time, it's kind of fading away," he said. "That tells you I'm not staying through the ball. That can be easily fixed. We just have to work at it. You want to be ahead of hitters and stay ahead of hitters instead of battling constantly, every hitter. We'll get there."

Kazmir surrendered the lead on a bases-loaded, two-out single by slumping Seattle cleanup hitter Richie Sexson, who was hitting .170 when he came to the plate. Kazmir fell behind 3-and-0 to Sexson but battled back to a full count. With the runners in motion, Sexson guided a fastball through the left side of the infield.

Maddon did not feel comfortable sending Kazmir out for the sixth inning with his pitch count in the 90s.

"He had good stuff," Maddon said. "The pitch count was way too high."

Kazmir was coming off a frustrating outing against the Rangers at Disney World in which he walked six and threw 109 pitches in just four innings of work. He will spend the next few days focusing on mechanics.

"It's time to attack it a little bit more in the fact that you feel confident about all your pitches, you're just digging yourself a hole with hitters," Kazmir said. "It makes it tough on you. We have to go after it and work the minor details."

Where Kazmir left off, the bullpen quickly picked up.

Chad Orvella came on in the sixth and gave up a home run to the second batter he faced, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. In the seventh, Orvella gave up a fan-interference, RBI double to Vidro, though the run was unearned because Ichiro Suzuki reached on an error by third baseman Ty Wigginton.

Shawn Camp pitched a scoreless seventh for the Rays, but in the eighth Gary Glover gave up a solo homer to catcher Kenji Johjima for a 5-2 Seattle lead.

The Rays offense didn't do much to help, failing to score after the game's first four batters and stranding a total of seven runners, three in scoring position with two outs.

Joanne Korth can be reached at korth@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.