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Saturday, July 10, 2010
Kazmir's confidence takes another hit

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

OAKLAND -- By the time Daric Barton took a big cut at the first pitch and sent the ball soaring over the right-field fence, you could feel the embarrassment just oozing out of Scott Kazmir's pores.

This wasn't a bad game for Kazmir. It wasn't a beating or a drubbing or getting knocked around, all those silly terms people use when a pitcher has an awful day. Those words failed to describe it. Scot Shields didn't scramble to get warm until after Coco Crisp had hit the three-run home run that gave the Oakland Athletics a 12-0 lead.

After this 15-1 mess was over, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia talked about Kazmir's confidence, which appears to have shriveled into a subatomic particle. So, if he's so worried about his highest-paid starter's confidence, why did he leave him to dangle in the wind through five innings, 103 pitches and a franchise record for runs allowed?

Scott Kazmir
Scott Kazmir gave up 13 runs on 11 hits in five innings.

Scioscia insists it wasn't a message to Kazmir, who has too often left his starts in the middle innings, forcing the Angels' bullpen into heavy-duty action.

"Absolutely not," Scioscia said. "We needed those pitches. We needed those innings. It's tough to leave a guy out there when he's struggling a bit, but for where our staff was, an 11-man staff, we needed that fifth inning without going into multiple innings with anybody tonight."

Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher echoed Scioscia's thoughts. He seemed a bit peeved that somebody would even ask him if Kazmir were being sent a message.

"There was nothing to learn out there tonight," Butcher said. "He wasn't left out there to dry. He wasn't left out there for anything. We have an 11-man pitching staff right now."

But, still, you have to wonder. The Angels are one game removed from the three-day All-Star break, when their bullpen can recharge. Their bullpen was plenty rested after consecutive strong outings from Joel Pineiro (seven innings), Ervin Santana (complete game), Joe Saunders (5 2/3 innings) and Jered Weaver (6 1/3). The need for innings Scioscia talked about doesn't quite add up, especially with Weaver, the ace, scheduled to pitch Sunday.

Kazmir didn't have much to say when asked if he was left to dangle in the wind. In fact, he was practically inaudible throughout his postgame comments.

"All I can do is go out there and battle," Kazmir said.

The 13 runs tacked onto Kazmir's already-bloated ERA were the most an Angels pitcher had ever allowed. They were the most any major league pitcher had allowed since Jason Marquis gave up 13 runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in a 2006 start against the Chicago White Sox. Coincidentally, Ubaldo Jimenez gave up 13 runs -- in his first 14 starts.

Kazmir (7-9) is constantly tinkering with his delivery, but all of the searching hasn't found much that's useful. He worked on strengthening his core this winter, sure that it would help his endurance. He has pitched through the sixth inning in just five of his 17 starts. He changed his arm slot, shortened his stride and underwent a battery of biomechanical tests over the past year or so, but he's still a shadow of the pitcher that used to baffle powerhouse lineups from the AL East.

Scioscia insisted Kazmir will remain in the Angels' rotation. He also insists that mechanics has nothing to do with what's going on. Kazmir's ERA is now 6.92. It boils down to confidence, Scioscia said, Kazmir's utter lack of it.

"I think that's an understatement," Butcher said. "Mike and I talk all the time. It's not mechanical. It's confidence. Nobody wants to see a guy go out and not have success. We're all pulling for him. It's hard to get confidence at this level when things aren't going well."

Kazmir is also a walking cautionary tale for trading away pieces of your future for a quick fix. The Angels got Kazmir to shore up their rotation in advance of the playoffs last year, which looked good while he was posting a 1.73 ERA in six regular-season starts for them. But he was sub-par in two playoff starts and he's been awful this year.

Meanwhile, Sean Rodriguez, one player dealt for Kazmir, has played five positions for the Tampa Bay Rays and is batting a solid .270 with six home runs and 30 RBIs. But he's not the player that could make the Angels rue the Kazmir deal. That player's name is Alex Torres. He's a 21-year old left-handed pitcher who is blazing his way through Double-A, going 8-3 with a 2.90 ERA.

Angels fans still will have a chance to watch Torres in person. He was picked to play in Sunday's Futures Game at Angel Stadium. Had the Angels not traded Torres, he probably would be their top pitching prospect. According to Baseball America, he has the best slider in the Rays' minor leagues.

And Kazmir probably came cheaper than a big-name hitter would for the Angels this month. He was traded after the trade deadline, which means he had to clear waivers to be traded. Demand for his services, in other words, wasn't exactly brisk. Tampa Bay was mostly looking to unload the $22.5 million it was on the hook to pay him. The Angels will have more competition in the market for an impact bat later this month.

Small silver lining

There weren't many good things for the Angels on Saturday, but there was one. Journeyman outfielder Cory Aldridge, 31, had his first major league hit. Aldridge, who is playing his 14th professional season, sliced a deep drive to left that Rajai Davis couldn't track down in the eighth inning, driving in a run.

Aldridge has appeared in 1,364 minor league games and 12 big league games. He had accumulated 4,873 professional at-bats before that major league hit.

"He's battled a long time and he's a talented guy. He just hasn't forced his way to get an opportunity to get lot of major league playing time," Scioscia said.

Quote of the day

"Today's a tough one to swallow, that's for sure. You're really not going to have too much confidence after starts like this." -- Kazmir.

Looking ahead

The Angels say they still haven't heard from Major League Baseball regarding Weaver's All-Star inclusion, but everything points to him making the roster. Because Weaver (8-4, 2.97 ERA) is pitching Sunday, he'll be ineligible to pitch Tuesday, as will Trevor Cahill (8-2, 2.74), Oakland's lone All-Star and opposing Weaver and the Angels on Sunday.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.