ANAHEIM -- At age 21, Scott Kazmir threw 186 innings for Tampa Bay in 2004 -- 52 more than he'd ever thrown in a season. He came back two years later with 206 2/3 innings, striking out an American League-high 239 hitters. He was the youngest American League strikeout king since the Angels' Frank Tanana, who was 22 in 1979.
That's a lot of wear and tear on a young arm, especially when one of his most important deliveries is the slider, a pitch known to create strain on the shoulder and elbow.
Kazmir is struggling to find his slider and get deep into games, averaging 5.4 innings per start for the Angels this season. He was frustrated after lasting only 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday night against Texas after facing the minimum nine hitters through three innings. A grand slam by scalding Vladimir Guerrero was the big blow that led to Kazmir's quick exit.
Meeting with manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday, Kazmir reiterated his need to bring his slider into games with more consistency to complement his fastball and changeup, the pitches he relied on almost exclusively against the Rangers.
"Some of the issues that have plagued Scott, it's been a little redundant," said Scioscia, who has had pitching coach Mike Butcher working overtime with Kazmir. "What Mike is working out with Scott are some fundamental adjustments. Some of his numbers are not good, but he's gone against some good clubs and pitched into the seventh and eighth innings in games we've won. I don't think his games have been horrific.
"It's not just his slider. That's part of it. He threw some decent ones [Wednesday night]. There's no doubt what his slider can be. Command of his slider is important to him. He's not bringing it in enough -- only a handful. The ultimate feel for a pitch is in the pitcher's hands. If Scott's not throwing it, it's because he's not comfortable with it. It's a difference-maker, and hopefully we're going to see it. But without a functional slider, Scott has shut down some pretty good teams."
Outfielder Rivera sits with eye ailment
ANAHEIM -- An undisclosed issue with his eyes had left fielder Juan Rivera out of the lineup for the second night in a row as the Angels wrapped up a three-game series with the American League West-leading Rangers on Thursday night at Angel Stadium.
"Juan's getting some things worked out and should be all right in a couple days," said manager Mike Scioscia, adding that MLB rules prevent him from identifying the nature of the problem. "He's getting some things adjusted."
Rivera, off to a slow start hitting .239 and slugging .423 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 68 games, was replaced in left by Reggie Willits. Willits had a two-run single in the 6-4 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night and is batting .259 with a .368 on-base percentage.
Scioscia indicated the problem with Rivera's eyes hasn't had a major impact in his offensive struggles. A notorious slow starter, Rivera is a .298 career hitter after the All-Star break compared to .264 before the break. His slugging percentage rises to .483 after the break, compared to .448 in the first half.
"If you look at Juan historically," Scioscia said, "the real impetus of his production comes in the second half of the season. He had been driving the ball better [lately]. Some of his numbers hadn't been where you'd hope they'd be, but he's swinging the bat better."
Rodriguez reintroduced to Vlad
ANAHEIM -- Francisco Rodriguez was in camp with the Angels for about three weeks in the spring of 2009 before leaving to pitch for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. The Angels' reliever remembers having a few cordial words with Vladimir Guerrero, but not really getting to know the celebrated slugger in his final season with the Angels.
Guerrero, bashing for the Rangers now, reintroduced himself to Rodriguez on Wednesday night when he lifted his first pitch, a cut fastball, over the wall in left-center for his second homer of the night. It was the final run in a 6-4 Texas victory.
"I really enjoyed watching him last year in Spring Training and saying `Hi' to him," Rodriguez said. "I left early for the Classic, so I didn't get to spend much time around him. It was an honor to face one of the greatest hitters, and I was upset after the game that he hit one off me.
"I didn't think he'd made real good contact, and watching him come out of the batter's box, he acted like he thought it was an out. But the ball kept going. That's why he's one of the greatest hitters ever. He's so strong, he doesn't have to make good contact to hit it out.
"My cutter is my best pitch. I can throw my fastball 93 [mph] to 96, touching 97. That cutter I threw is 89 to 91, and I got a little too much of the plate, I guess. He's so long, he can hit anything. Usually with a guy with long arms like that, you can throw the fastball inside. But he can pull his arms in and hit that pitch, too. That's why he's who he is. I look forward to facing him again and seeing what I can do. That's the challenge of the game."
Replacing Kevin Frandsen at third base, Brandon Wood was given his first start on Thursday night since smacking his first career grand slam on Sunday against the Rockies. "I'll see if I can make some decent contact," Wood said of the matchup against talented Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson. Wood is batting .286 in his past 10 games, raising his average 25 points to .176. ... Reggie Willits, starting in left field with Juan Rivera having his eyes examined, is batting .323 over his past 12 games. Willits had a two-run single on Wednesday night. ... Wilson was probably happy not to see Rivera's name on the Angels' lineup card. Rivera is 5-for-11 with a homer against Wilson. Torii Hunter is 3-for-5 against him with two homers. ... Erick Aybar is a .373 career hitter in July. The shortstop has 18 hits in his past 46 at-bats (.391), lifting his average to .275. ... The Angels were still marveling on Thursday over a play Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus made in the hole robbing Mike Napoli of a hit on Wednesday night. "That was probably as athletic as anything you're going to see in a shortstop," manager Mike Scioscia said, agreeing that it was in the Ozzie Smith class. "This kid's got a stronger arm than Ozzie. The best I've ever seen going in the hole was Garry Templeton. He had a cannon." Templeton was traded from the Cardinals to the Padres for the Wizard of Oz, who became a Hall of Fame player in St. Louis. ... The Angels will not face Zack Greinke in the three-game weekend series with the Royals at Angel Stadium. Kansas City sends Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen and Anthony Lerew against Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro, respectively. Minor League spotlight: Southpaw Tyler Skaggs continues to impress for low Class A Cedar Rapids. A supplemental first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Santa Monica (Calif.) High School, Skaggs gave up two hits and two walks in five shutout innings of a 1-0 victory over Beloit. Skaggs is 6-3 with a 3.18 ERA with 65 strikeouts against only 16 walks in 65 innings pitched.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.