Kazmir knows he can't rely on fastball
Lefty realizes he needs to work on other pitches to fool batters
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sometimes, when Scott Kazmir looks up at the scoreboard in the middle innings and sees his pitch count is already hovering around 80, he gets a bit frustrated.
Sometimes, when he's ousted from games earlier than he has been in the past, he wants to go back to his old ways.
Sometimes, he wishes the buzz about his high pitch count would just go away.
But only sometimes.
"It gets around the fifth or sixth inning and you look up there and I've thrown 75-80 pitches, and you think, 'This is my last inning, I'm going to go get them,' and then you kind of overthrow a little bit," he said. "It's frustrating in that effect, but to tell you the truth, I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm changing a little bit of my delivery during the season, and I know it's going to take some time to feel comfortable with it."
With a mid-90s heater, Kazmir's always been a "stuff" guy, relying on his speed to keep hitters swinging -- and missing -- time and time again. It's a strategy that's helped him earn the No. 1 spot in the Rays' rotation, a place on the 2006 American League All-Star squad and nearly 500 strikeouts in just around 80 career games.
In order to continue to be effective, Kazmir realizes he's going to need more than just a fastball. Working on mechanics as the season progresses isn't easy, but Rays manager Joe Maddon thinks it's the 23-year-old's willingness to keep working on his development that's going to pay off in the end.
"I can see a little inner turmoil, as far as he's not doing what he wants to do, but I believe he's just going to morph into the season, and all of a sudden, just kick butt," Maddon said.
Tampa Bay's skipper pointed to Kazmir's June 12 start against San Diego as what he thinks may be the turning point in Kazmir's season. The left-hander threw 117 pitches and left after six innings, but if not for a 39-pitch final frame, Maddon said the youngster would've kept on cruising.
"You take away that one inning and he was great," said Maddon of Kazmir, who earned a no-decision despite compiling a career-high-tying 11 punch outs. "It was a nice first step, as far as getting him back to where he wants to be."
|"I feel like everything's falling into place. My fastball feels good, the thing right now is that I'm throwing it too much. That's really all the hitters have to look for, the fastball, as much as I'm throwing it. I'd have one offspeed pitch and not the other."|
|-- Scott Kazmir|
Kazmir knows the process will take time. He's worked with pitching coach Jim Hickey to tweak his delivery so that it will be more consistent. Things will pay off down the road, Kazmir knows, but it's hard to stay focused on the eventual rewards instead of the immediate results.
"It is difficult [to be patient]," he said. "At the same time, you look back and you're like, "OK, I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing the whole time. That's what got me here.' That's kind of the situation where I'm at right now. I'm kind of stubborn a little bit.
"Now when I want to take the next step and get better, it involves something like this."
Kazmir has put quite a bit of work into his changeup this year, something he admits has taken away from his slider because of the two different angles needed to deliver the pitch. He's also tried moving to the other side of the pitching rubber and keeping his stance closed.
It's nothing major, Kazmir willingly admits, just a group of small tweaks that, used in the right combination, should help both boost his effectiveness against hitters and keep his pitch count low so he'll be able to see the later innings more often.
"I feel like everything's falling into place," he said. "My fastball feels good, the thing right now is that I'm throwing it too much. That's really all the hitters have to look for, the fastball, as much as I'm throwing it. I'd have one offspeed pitch and not the other."
Once all cylinders are running at full speed, opponents should look out.
Just three years into his Major League career, Kazmir's performance has already caught the eye of future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. The righty has made quite a career as a strikeout man and fanned 3,169 batters through the 2006 season.
"If you strike guys out, your pitch count is going to be high. Maybe [Kazmir] ought to increase his pitch count, how about that?" the 41-year-old Padres pitcher joked.
On a more serious note, Maddux praised Kazmir's heater, slider, changeup and offspeed pitches in general, proclaiming that the lefty "has got good stuff."
Maddux also had a message to Kazmir: keep working, but don't try to do too much.
"Guys are going to swing at pitches when you've got stuff like that," said Maddux. "You're going to throw more pitches."
Kazmir was 2 years old when Maddux made his big-league debut, but the compliment was definitely not lost on the youngster.
"That's great for someone like Maddux to take my back," he grinned. "That's really something."
Maddon chewed Maddux's words thoughtfully before he responded. Maddux was more of a strikeout guy in his earlier years, Maddon observed, until experience took the reins.
"I think when you're young and you're throwing 90-some miles an hour, you want the strikeout -- the strikeout's cool," Maddon said. "As you gain experience, you realize that, 'I just want to get the guy out.' And if I can get him out in three pitches, so be it. I really prefer that.
"And I think as Kaz does that, you're going to see him really blossom."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or is clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.