02/27/11 6:19 PM EST
Kazmir encouraged by feeling of first start
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Scott Kazmir nodded in emphatic agreement.
"All in all," the Angels' southpaw said, having yielded three runs and five hits in two innings on Sunday against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, "I felt great."
A dominant pitcher in his youth for the Rays, Kazmir liked how he his delivery flowed, how his pathway to the plate was closer to what it was like when he was muting hitters, not watching them make loud noises and circle the bases.
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"I feel like I'm not manipulating myself," he said. "I've got good direction again. The problem last year is that I would fly open. Everything is compact, together."
On his way to a 9-15 record with a 5.94 ERA in 28 starts last year, Kazmir often complained that an unseen force was yanking him toward third base in his release of the baseball. That troubling feeling, he maintains, is gone.
He knows there will be snickers along with a few slings and arrows. Critics want results, not explanations. Coming off that nightmarish 2010, he'd have preferred two perfect innings. What he found was imperfection in the form of deceiving results.
"In a perfect world, everything would have [gone] right," he said. "That's how the baseball world is. It's going to humble you. It's nothing I wasn't prepared for."
Kazmir didn't reach a two-ball count until facing his eighth batter. He struck out Andre Ethier with a slider. He put his fastball in good locations, snapped off a few quality breaking balls, hit spots with his changeup. There was progress.
One thing he didn't do was go after hitters when they were down in the count, something the young Kazmir did without blinking when he was among the game's premier strikeout artists.
"I've got to get more aggressive with two strikes," he said. "I'm thinking ground ball instead of strikeout."
There were three ground-ball singles that could have been outs. A soft line drive fell for two runs. Kazmir was not rocked. The Dodgers put balls in the right places.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia felt it was "a good first step" for Kazmir, "and, hopefully, he will keep building off it.
"There were a lot of positives out there. He's already throwing the ball better than at any time last spring. There are still some things he needs to clean up, but he looked good."
Scioscia feels Kazmir will become more adept at finishing hitters off as he continues his progress.
"As he gets confident with his command, I think he'll get in counts where he puts guys away," Scioscia said. "Eventually, he'll get to that command. When your command is spotty, you tend to waste pitches and let hitters get back in counts. When he has his command, he can get deeper in games."
On a 10-scale, Kazmir gave himself "a seven or eight." Once again, he knows others will grade him much lower.
"I felt like I did my work," he said. "I'm not putting too much pressure on myself in Spring Training. If I got caught up in what everyone else is saying, I'm not sure what I'd think."
Matt Kemp's one-out single to left-center in the first inning cashed in Rafael Furcal, who'd singled through the middle on an 0-2 pitch. Casey Blake followed with a ground-ball double past the bag at third that could have been a double play if it had traveled a few feet in the other direction.
Kazmir struck out Ethier and picked off Kemp before retiring Juan Uribe on a popup to close the inning.
Singles by James Loney and Marcus Thames led to Hector Gimenez's sacrifice fly in the second. A double-play grounder by Rod Barajas ended Kazmir's day.
Because he said he delivered his warmup pitches as if under game conditions, he felt as if he'd thrown 50 or 60 pitches, not 30 or 31.
Kazmir spent the winter in Arizona working on his conditioning and ironing out his delivery under the supervision of the club's training staff and pitching coach Mike Butcher.
A drop in body fat from 13 percent to 8 1/2 percent has Kazmir feeling greater flexibility and range of motion with his upper body.
"I feel like I'm getting that whip back, free and easy," he said. "Someone can tell me all they want about direction, where I need to be. I've got to get that feel. Toward the end of December, I felt I was where I needed to be."
Eventually, as Opening Day approaches, he'll need results. In these early days of spring, if you have Scott Kazmir's history as a two-time All-Star and former strikeout champion, feeling good is what matters most.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.