tampabay.com

Tiny tweak produces big results for Kazmir

Scott Kazmir made the slight adjustment in Thursday's bullpen session as much out of desperation as anything else, literally a matter of inches as he shifted his feet from the third-base end of the pitching rubber to the first-base side.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 28, 2007


CHICAGO - Scott Kazmir made the slight adjustment in Thursday's bullpen session as much out of desperation as anything else, literally a matter of inches as he shifted his feet from the third-base end of the pitching rubber to the first-base side.

But if the way he pitched Sunday was a valid indication, the difference could turn out to be huge.

With his command and confidence improving as the game went along, Kazmir delivered his longest outing, and his first victory, in nearly a month as the Rays capped their rain-shortened trip with an 11-5 win over the White Sox.

The victory was noteworthy in many ways for the 20-28 Rays: their first by more than three runs, the major-league most 17th by coming from behind, the first four-hit game of B.J. Upton's career, their season-high-matching 15 hits overall, the fifth consecutive trip they've ended positively.

But it was the seven-inning performance by Kazmir - their 2006 All-Star whose 2007 season has been marred by inconsistency - that was most significant.

"He really pitched well in the later part of the game, " manager Joe Maddon said. "He made some big pitches and got some tough outs, including the last one he got. I like the way he battled through today a lot. That was very nice. He's kept us in every game he's pitched and he's not as sharp as he can be yet, so I'm really looking forward to that moment."

Kazmir, 3-2 with a 3.95 ERA, thinks it is coming soon.

New pitching coach Jim Hickey suggested in spring training that Kazmir move at least toward the middle of the rubber. As Kazmir worked in the bullpen Thursday, trying to figure out how to make his delivery more repeatable and get more consistent finish on his pitches, he finally gave it a try. After 25-30 pitches he knew he was on to something.

"It was something that felt good and I felt I could work on it and it would make it a lot easier throwing to certain spots, " he said.

Sunday, it worked so well - especially in keeping his fastball on the outside part of the plate to right-handed hitters - that he threw only three or four sliders, sticking mainly to his fastball and two-seam changeup.

The Rays led 2-0 when Kazmir had his one rough spot, allowing four runs on four hits and a walk in a 25-pitch third inning. But unlike past outings in which some trouble led to more, he got better, especially after Carlos Pena's two-run opposite-field homer tied the score in the sixth and Carl Crawford tripled in Upton with the go-ahead run in the seventh.

He allowed only three hits the rest of the way, hitting 94 mph several times, and worked an impressive seventh after a leadoff double by Rob Mackowiak, striking out Tadahito Iguchi, getting Jim Thome to fly to left and catching Jermaine Dye looking at strike three with his 107th and final pitch.

"It's fun watching him pitch, " said Upton, who upped his average to .325. "I think he's going to be Cy Young one day."

For now, Kazmir is happy just being himself - even if he looks different.

"It felt really good, " he said.