The Rollercoaster Year of Scott Kazmir
Kazmir did have some good news in the first half of the season as he was selected to his second All-Star game. But the Rays sent strict directions to American League All-Star team Manager Terry Francona that Kazmir was not to pitch extended innings and be kept out of the contest at all costs. That seemed to work into Franconas favor when in the top of the 15th inning, with everyone else used in the Bullpen and the bench as pitchers, he had to call upon Kazmir to throw at least one inning for the American League. Kazmir came in and on 14 pitches got one strikeout and give the American League a chance to win the contest. For his efforts, Kazmir became the first Rays pitcher to record a victory in the All-Star game. With that positive momentum, you would think it would have worked in his favor to boost both his confidence and his ability on the mound.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon gave Kazmir a couple of extra days off after that All-Star game appearance before finally using him for his first start of the second half on July 21st. In his first start after the All-star game, Kazmir went 7 innings in a 2-0 shutout of the Oakland A’s at home. In the contest, Kazmir only gave up 2hits, but he also posted 9 strikeouts and gave up 4 walks in the contest. He was not back yet with his control, but the contest helped him boost his record to 8-5 for the Rays. Kazmir then went 3 starts with a no-decision before finally losing on August 12th against the Oakland A’s. Over his next 4 starts he averaged only 4.5 innings of work and gave up a total of 21 hits, but only surrendered 11 runs in those games.
Kazmir was also starting to show signs of sporadic pitching in which he was exiting the game earlier than usual and not hitting his spots again. He was trying to hit the outside corners more, and the umpires were not giving him the corner and the frustration was evident on his face during his time on the mound. Finally in his 3rd start of the year against the Rangers, Kazmir got back on the winning side by throwing a 4-hit, 2-run 7 strikeout game on August 17th. But in that contest Kazmir again was showing a wild side as he also surrendered 4 walks to the Rangers in the game. Kazmir again took the mound on August 23rd against the Chicago White Sox and was rendered a no-decision after only going 6 innings in the game.
Kazmir finally got back on the winning horse when he won on August 29th in Baltimore with a 5.1 innings stint that produced a 3-hit shutout on 102 pitches. Also important on this day was the fact that it was the Rays 63rd victory of the year and it secured their first winning season in history. Kazmir seemed to be riding the upward slope on his roller coaster year as he again blanked the New York Yankees on September 4th in a 1-hit shutout. Kazmir only lasted 6 innings in th contest, but again he posted 7 strikeouts in the game to go along with 4 walks. But it was the September 9th start against Diasuke Matsuzaka in Fenway Park that set the stage for the Rays claiming the American League East title.
In the contest, both pitchers showed early dominance until after 6 innings and surrendering 5-hits and only 2 runs Kazmir left the contest. The significance of this game was that it was the game in which Rays pinch hitter Dan Johnson took Jonathan Papelbon deep into the Red Sox Bullpen in the 9th inning before Dioner Navarro hit a double to win the game for the Rays. This victory snapped a win less streak in Fenway that had eluded the Rays all season long. With the curse at Fenway now lifted, the Rays ended up securing the series and keep their lead in the A L East race.
5 days later Matsuzaka and Kazmir again squared off at Tropicana Field and Kazmir lasted only 3 innings giving up 9 runs on 6 hits and only surviving 72 pitches in the contest. This was by far the worst appearance for the young leftie this season for the Rays, and it dropped his record to 11-7. For one of the first times in his Rays career, Kazmir gave up as many walks as he got strikeout in the game…..4. But it was his start on September 20th that he showed the big game presence and confidence for the Rays. In this contest against the hard charging Minnesota Twins, Kazmir threw 6 innings of 5-hit ball and shutout the visiting Twins to secure the Rays first playoff berth. Not only did he improve his record to 12-7, but Kazmir looked amazing in the game starting to use his slider more and confused the Twins hitters at the plate.
In his last start of the regular season, Kazmir again had the chance to put his name in the Rays trivia book as he took the mound on September 25th against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park to secure the A L East for the Rays. Kazmir was not sharp and got handed a loss while going 5 innings and posting 6 strikeouts in the game. The Rays would have to wait another day before finally securing the AL East title, but Kazmir was visibly upset after the game. But with the playoffs staring them in the face, the Rays knew that they needed their young ace confident and ready to handle almost anything.
He got his first postseason start in the American League Divisional Series against the Chicago White Sox on October 3rd and posted his first postseason win in a 6-2 victory over the White Sox to take a 2-0 lead in the best of 4 series. Kazmir went 5.1 innings and threw 98 pitches while surrendering 8 hits and 2 runs in the game. The Rays took their 2-0 series lead to Chicago and came back with a ALDS series victory. Kazmir then began to get ready for a rematch against divisional foes, the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series. Because of Tampa Bay’s securing the A L East title, they got to host the Red Sox in the first two games.
Kazmir again got to face the Red Sox hitters on October 11th. But in this match up, it was the Red Sox who dominated Kazmir who only went 4.1 innings and threw 98 pitches before bowing out of the contest. He had given up 3 walks in the game and only posted 2 strikeouts, one of his worst pitching statistics of the season. His ERA skyrocketed to 10.38 for the postseason, but the Rays did come back in the contest to score the winning run on a B J Upton sacrifice fly to right in the 9th inning to win 9-8.
On October 16th, Matsuzaka and Kazmir met again and this time it seemed as if Kazmir had the upper hand in the game. In the game Kazmir did his part by going 6 innings and throwing only 2 hits in shutting down the Red Sox offense. But after he left the contest, the Rays Bullpen had troubles and Kazmir ended up with a no-decision for his efforts that night en route to a 8-7 Red Sox win. Kazmir did get to lower his ERA to a more respectable 4.35 with the outing. Kazmir did not get to pitch again in the ALCS, but with the Rays clinching a victory in Game 7 at Tropicana Field, they were heading to their first World Series berth.
Kazmir got the call for Game 2 at the Trop., and he proved up to the occasion as he go the start during the first game of the series. He was pitted against Cole Hamels, and the two pitcher were throwing a fantastic game until the Phillies broke loose in the game after Phiilies catcher Carlos Ruiz grounded out to Jason Bartlett to score the third run of the game and put the Phillies up 3-0 on the Rays. Kazmir ended up throwing 6 innings of 6-hit, 3 run ball, but he also had control issues in the contest as the Phillies were waiting for his pitches outside and took advantage of his wildness. He ended up posting 4 strikeouts and 4 walks in the game on 110 pitches. That was the last time he took the mound for the Rays in 2008.
After starting his season later than usual, Kazmir did end up starting 27 games and going only 152.1 innings. He did end up giving up the least amount of earned run on the staff with 59 for the year, but also threw less innings in the season. Kazmir did not have a banner year or post season, and people were beginning to question his pitch selection and placement at the plate. Some even thought that he lost his confidence in his slider, and that he might not get it back in time to save a great career. But in the last two post season series, Kazmir did indeed use his slider more and more and it was pretty effective against hitters once again.
In the off season, Kazmir went to work on a strength program where he added about 20 pounds to his frame to help him endure the rigors of pitching more in 2009. When he came into camp earlier in the year there was a sizable difference to him in that his forearms and shoulders did have an added depth and his overall body core looked more lean. He was also selected to be a member of the Team USA squad for the 2009 World Baseball classic. Kazmir was looking to represent his country and maybe even pitch during the first round action against Team Canada in Toronto. But the Rays expressed their desire that he not participate in the WBC because of the workload he endured in 2008.
Even if he did throw less innings, they were worried that the short off season might have after effects on his pitching. So yesterday it was announced that the WBC was taking Kazmir off the Team USA roster because he spent 44 days on the disabled list in 2008. Tampa Bay had filed a request with Major League Baseball that would effectively prevent him from playing in the classic. Players who were on the disabled list for 45 days can be blocked from playing. Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman told Bill Chastain of MLB.com that, “We felt with the health issues he had at the beginning of last season, coupled with playing the extra month, we felt the prudent thing to do is to push him back a little bit this spring.”
I am going to tell you how it is in my world about this revelation by the Rays to prevent him from playing in the classic. I am appalled that the Rays will not let this guy participate. The WBC has pitch counts set, and also have precautions in place to help prevent injuries and problems that could linger into the regular season. you might only get one chance to represent your country, and it is a great honor to even be considered, much less told you will be a valued member of the staff. The Rays took a huge opportunity from Kazmir here that would be a highlight of his career.
Ken Griffey Jr, and even Chipper Jones have stated in the past that this is one of the most memorable honors of their careers. For the Rays to take that from Kazmir is showing that management is not afraid to overstep the boundaries to secure their wishes. Considering that the Rays are going to split their pitching staff into two groups during the Spring Training games shows that they plan on monitoring their pitching staff and also giving them minimum innings before the regular season. Why not let Kazmir play for Team USA, you are letting Rays reliever J P Howell play without any reservations to your Bullpen setup guy maybe getting hurt in the classic.
Photo credits for today’s blog go to RRCollections and the Associated Press Corp photo pool.