tampabay.com

'Same old song' as half ends in failure

The Rays have three days to reflect on their brutal slump.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 9, 2007


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It would seem as if the All-Star break is coming at the right time for the Devil Rays, but actually it would have been better two weeks ago.

The Rays were blasted again Sunday, losing 12-4 to the Royals, which means Gary Glover's ninth-inning escape act Friday is all that kept them from the ignominy of taking a 14-game losing streak into the three-day break.

As it is, they have the worst record in the majors at 34-53, a bullpen in need of a major overhaul and a brutal schedule awaiting, with eight of their first 11 post-break games and 14 overall against the Yankees and 15 against the Red Sox.

"We're going to need these three days, " Rays starter Scott Kazmir said. "It's been a tough run for us."

Sunday's game was within reach for a while, thanks primarily to an impressive offensive show by Jonny Gomes, until the eighth, when relievers Brian Stokes and Casey Fossum allowed six runs. That was after Jason Hammel relieved Kazmir in the sixth and ended up giving up a bases-loaded double.

"It's the same old song and I can't say it any other way, " manager Joe Maddon said. "The bullpen - we have to get better. It wears you down a little bit. Or actually a lot. We have to do something about that. If we don't come back after the break better in the bullpen, we're not. ... I'm not saying it has to be new people, I'm just saying we have to be pitching better. We can't pitch like that and expect to compete on a nightly basis. That's just not going to happen."

Relief woes aren't their only problems. Kazmir had another disappointing effort and said he plans to abandon the mechanical adjustments he has tried and, starting Friday, go back to throwing.

A year ago Sunday, Kazmir was headed to the All-Star Game with a 10-6 record, 3.27 ERA and a seemingly brilliant future.

But he developed shoulder problems shortly afterward, and in 24 starts since then (five last season) he has been considerably less effective, going 5-6 with a 4.14 ERA and developing a reputation for pitching himself out of games.

"I'm just going to forget about this first half, " Kazmir said. "It's been very disappointing. For all the stuff I felt like I had, I felt like I was just thinking out there too much. My approach for the second half is that I'm just going to go out there and do what I've done in the past, not worry about ... mechanics and whatnot because that type of stuff you just can't think about during the game."

Kazmir lasted only two batters into the sixth Sunday (after 105 pitches), marking the 13th time this season he exceeded 100 and worked less than seven innings.

"Kaz struggled again command-wise, " Maddon said.

Gomes' huge day - two doubles and his seventh homer in 24 games since returning from Triple A - came with a message. His playing time is likely to be reduced considerably when B.J. Upton comes off the disabled list and takes over in centerfield, likely Thursday, with Delmon Young back to right, so he was making the most of what he had.

"Jonny knows what's going on, Jonny knows what's happening and Jonny wants to play, " Maddon said. "I really respect how he's going about things."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.