tampabay.com

Kazmir in control

The Rays' reinvigorated ace continues his second-half roll by dominating the Orioles.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 5, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - It was only four Sundays ago that Scott Kazmir was lost. Pitching in Kansas City the final game before the All-Star break, Kazmir was so frustrated and confused he says now it would have taken a "miracle" for him to get the ball where he wanted it.

Desperate, Kazmir decided to simplify things, moving his feet back toward the third-base side of the rubber and putting aside the series of mechanical adjustments he'd been consumed with.

In the process, he found his old self.

Kazmir continued the roll the Devil Rays had been eagerly awaiting, pitching another seven solid innings Saturday to spur a 9-2 win over the Orioles.

"It's a huge difference, but the thing is it's crazy because it's just minor adjustments that we made," said Kazmir, now 8-7 with a 3.72 ERA. "I'm just excited that the second half everything feels like it came back to me. It feels like I'm pitching like I did in the past."

It was a feel-good night all around, as the Rays 42-67 snapped a mystifying eight-game losing streak to the O's.

There was offense from all over the lineup, including Carlos Pena's 26th home run, Delmon Young's major-league rookie high 36th multihit game, Carl Crawford's three hits and Akinori Iwamura's two, extending his hitting streak to 10 games, as they got to nine runs for only the second time in more than a month.

They played defense, too, with the highlight Young's guided missile from deep rightfield to home that nabbed Chris Gomez for his 10th assist.

Since the break, Kazmir is 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA in five starts, has a strikeout-walk ratio of 38-11 and hasn't allowed a homer. In the first half, he was 5-6, 4.41 in 19 starts, with a strikeout-walk ratio of 115-58, and gave up 12 homers.

"We knew he wasn't going to go the whole season like he did the first half," Crawford said. "At some point he was going to start pitching good, and now's the time."

The key, manager Joe Maddon said, is the simplified delivery.

"To me, the direction in his delivery is much better," Maddon said. "He's not falling off to the right side. Everything is happening straight ahead. And he's just pumping strikes with his fastball. The velocity, he's maintaining it, still throwing 95 (mph) at 108-109-100 pitches. The slider's doing what he wants, the changeup's doing what he wants. ...

"And he's doing it easily. I don't know if that's apparent from upstairs or not, but there's no effort in his delivery. He's just nice and smooth - boom! - the ball's jumping. It's exploding at home plate, you can see that by the swings."

O's manager Dave Trembley was not quite as complimentary, saying his hitters helped by being too anxious: "He pitched a heck of a game, but I'm not so sure if he got us out or did we get ourselves out."

Kazmir said a clear mind has helped, too.

"I'm not doing any overanalyzing, not really thinking out there, just going out there and executing pitches," he said. "It feels really comfortable out there. When you really don't have to worry about your mechanics, harnessing certain things just to be able to get the ball over the plate, you just feel comfortable that you can just throw it where you want. It's a good feeling."

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