Tagged: Scott Kazmir

2009 Season Retrospective: Part One

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2009 season has been completed, here are some facts and figures from the season, including the good, bad and completely miserable:

  • Record: 84–78 (Third place)
  • Home Run Leader: Carlos Pena (39)
  • Stolen Base Leader: Carl Crawford (60)
  • Best Starter ERA: Jeff Niemann (3.94)
  • Batting Leader: Jason Bartlett (.320 — Franchise Record)
  • Best Bullpen ERA: J.P. Howell (2.84)
  • RBI Leader: Evan Longoria (113)

Longoria also led in runs scored (100). B.J. Upton was second in stolen bases (42). Matt Garza finished just behind Niemann in ERA (3.95). Howell led the team in saves (17), but also in blown saves (8).

  • Pat Burrell: .221, 14 HR in 122 games
  • Dioner Navarro: .218, 8 HR, 18 walks in 115 games
  • B.J. Upton: .241, 11 HR in 144 games
  • Andy Sonnanstine: 6–9, 6.77 ERA in 22 games (18 starts)
  • Grant Balfour: 5–4, 4.81 ERA (1.50 in 2008)
  • Scott Kazmir: 8–7, 5.92 ERA with the Rays in 20 games; 2–2, 1.73 ERA with the Angels in six games
  • James Shields: 11–12, 4.14 ERA

So without six busts and a mediocre season from Shields, this team probably would have made the postseason. Every one of those guys could have done much better, as they have before. Thankfully, they were aided by the surprising Ben Zobrist (.297, 27 HR, 17 SB) and Bartlett (30 SB, 14 HR; one HR in 2008).

  • Five players (Pena, Upton, Longoria, Burrell, Zobrist) struck out more than 100 times, while Crawford reached 99. Bartlett had a career–high 89 in 137 games. This is actually down from last season, when seven players reached triple digits.
  • Crawford stole his first 32 bases consecutively, but ended up being caught 16 times. He claims he was safe on half of those, and I can recall at least one (in New York) where he was indeed safe.
  • Troy Percival remained on the payroll the entire season, despite posting a 6.35 ERA in 14 games before going home in May. He still earned $4 million.
  • Lance Cormier and Randy Choate were the anti–Percival, pitching surprisingly well after signing minor league contracts. Cormier held down a 3.26 ERA and Choate 3.47.
  • Longoria hit 8 home runs with 26 RBI against the Red Sox.

Those are some random bits of information to close this out. Join me again soon for Part Two: Honest Opinions. Until next time, go Rays… and anyone who beats the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies.

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Scott Kazmir Traded to Angels

On Friday, August 22, I attended the Tampa Bay Rays’ game against the Texas Rangers in section 149 in left center field. The Rays won 5–3 behind a strong start by two–time All–Star Scott Kazmir.

Little did I know that Kazmir’s Rays career would be over one week later, and that this would be his final home start at Tropicana Field.

Kazmir was officially traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim late Friday night for minor league pitcher Alexander Torres, third baseman Matthew Sweeney and a player to be named later.

He had an 8–7 record with an abysmal 5.92 ERA this season, but before that had been a dominating ace for four years. The man once known as “King K” helped lead the Rays to the 2008 World Series and was seen as the pitcher of the present and future in Tampa Bay. But with injuries, this season’s performance and a slew of pitchers seemingly passing him by, the team saw fit to cut its ties with him.

Kazmir was due at least $20 million over the next two seasons, which will now be covered by the Angels. The Rays want to use the money on other players, notably to retain Carl Crawford.

Scott had so much upside that trading him in August had never seemed possible. He was always known as a solid strikeout pitcher who could kick it up a notch in pressure situations. He seemed like the type of leader a team could build around. He looked to be on his way to a Hall of Fame career in his early 20s.

Then came 2009. Injuries started catching up with Kazmir, who had only pitched one complete game in his professional career. His out pitches became inconsistent and lost velocity. David Price and Jeff Niemann started stealing his thunder, and prized prospects Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson were waiting to take his job.

With that information in mind, Kazmir was let go. But not for nothing, as was the case with Alex Rios and the Blue Jays.

Torres, 21, is a left–hander who bears a strong resemblance to a young Kazmir. He gets strikeouts and ground balls at high rates, and Rays scouts “rave about him.” He went 13–4 with a 2.75 ERA between Class A Advanced and AA this season. He looks to be the centerpiece of the deal for the Rays.

Sweeney, a slightly older 21, hit .299 in A+ ball with nine home runs. He is seen as a good power prospect with good strike zone knowledge. Or maybe trade bait. We don’t know yet.

The Rays also said that the player to be named later would be a “significant piece.”

It looks like the Rays didn’t leave empty–handed. But the franchise leader in wins and strikeouts is now gone, leaving a void in team history as well as the current roster. Kazmir may never fully recover, or he could morph into Steve Carlton. We don’t know yet. He frustrated us in 2009, but he provided us with many great games and classic moments through his years in Tampa Bay. Including a standing ovation in section 149 on a Friday night in St. Petersburg.

Goodbye, Scott. Best of luck in future endeavors. Rays Republic will miss you.

Kazmir and Bradford Up, Sonnanstine and Abreu Down

Mere minutes after the Rays defeated the Florida Marlins 7–3 in Friday night’s game at Tropicana Field, major changes to the roster were announced. Scott Kazmir returns from the disabled list, where he had been with a quadriceps strain/mechanical problem. Returning from elbow surgery, Chad Bradford will be making his 2009 Rays debut this weekend. The victims here were relief pitcher Winston Abreu, who was designated for assignment, and starter Andy Sonnanstine, whose 6.61 ERA this season ranked him the worst in the league among qualifiers and got him sent to AAA Durham.

Abreu didn’t do too badly from what I saw. He was dominating at Durham. Hopefully he stays in this organization and continues what he did before at that level.

Sonnanstine’s demotion to AAA has been long–awaited. This season, at least. His frequently giving up home runs and five–run innings became too much for everyone to handle. After two years straight in the Major Leagues, he now returns to Durham to fix… whatever his problem is. From the playoff starting rotation to this. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Hopefully he, like Kazmir, figures it out.

Speaking of Kazmir, he will start the Saturday night Citrus Series game against the Marlins. He did very well in rehab, not only healing that quadriceps but finding and straightening out pitching delivery flaws. He wasn’t driving off of his back leg, which reduced his fastball to about a AA level pitch. He’s good at 94 miles per hour, but worthless at 88. He’s no J.P. Howell, but now he’s finally getting back on track.

Chad Bradford also makes his season debut. He was a major presence in last year’s bullpen after being picked up off waivers from Baltimore. His unusual delivery and high rate of ground ball outs make him a big time commodity. He’s a great postseason pitcher and tends to at least do well regardless of the situation. We needed him back, and now we have him to give us another intriguing option.

If you can attend these home games in any possible way, please go. The attendance is looking somewhat dismal so far. But I do hear that the Rays are considering a Hillsborough County stadium (finally, please build it soon), so revenue and higher crowds may be forthcoming. Until next time, go Rays.

Kazmir and Percival to Disabled List; Percival May Retire

You may recall that, just yesterday (May 20), I wrote a piece opining on what the Rays should do with pitchers Scott Kazmir and Troy Percival, who have each been suffering from command and confidence issues this season.  They have come up with one viable remedy that I did not include: both pitchers have been sent to the 15–day disabled list.

The excuse for Kazmir is a right quadriceps strain, which is probably minor, but still causing a hitch in his delivery.  There are other unofficial causes to his time off, such as the loss of his fastball and the need to clear his head.  This is a good thing to do for him right now.  Just get him away and let him heal.  Then decide on another course of action based on his progress.

Meanwhile, Percival’s case may be a little more serious — or, in fact, career ending.  Right shoulder tendinitis is the official reason.  It is a legitimate injury, as he has complained of shoulder pain.  But it could be the end of the line.  He has flown back to Riverside, California to speak with his family and consider retirement.

This is the fourth time since joining the Rays that Percival has seen the DL.  He had hamstring and back problems in 2008, the latter of which kept him out of the playoffs.  He never got it together after the middle of last season.  Joe Maddon actually said that he would not be surprised if he did go ahead and retire.  It would be an unfortunate ending to a great career, but seeing as he initially retired after 2006 due to arm injuries, he made a nice second effort.  I think he should just leave it up to those who can still pitch a full inning without either pulling a muscle or blowing a lead.

In the place of the injured pitchers, the Rays have called up 23–year–old shortstop Reid Brignac and 28–year–old relief pitcher Dale Thayer from AAA Durham.  Brignac had a good start, hitting .291 with three home runs so far for the Bulls.  He is likely to be up as a reserve for a short time.  Ditto for Thayer, who has an 0.93 ERA in 16 appearances with six saves at Durham.  He also pitched phenomenally there last year, ending up with a 2.77 ERA (it was under 2.00 most of the season) in 52 games and racking up more than one strikeout per inning.  He would make his Major League debut in his first appearance as a Ray.

Also being rumored to join the team soon is the one and only David Price, the number one Draft pick from 2007 who loudly burst onto the scene in 2008.  In eight starts at AAA, he is only 1–4 with a 3.93 ERA with 35 K in 34.1 innings.  He did, however, pitch five hitless innings in his last start on May 17.  They are also allowing him to throw more pitches per outing as he refines the fastball command and masters the changeup.  He could still boost this starting rotation right now and get a little more experience against some of the best competition out there.  This would be a good move, at least for a few weeks.

As I write this, the Rays hold a commanding 15–1 lead over the Marlins at Landshark Stadium.  Hey, look at that — Brignac just got his first Major League hit.  He has now put that 0–for–10 stint from last year way behind him.  And Gabe Gross hit a home run.  Good for him, he needed it.  They led 13–0 after three innings, so I believe they should win this one as automatically as the Harlem Globetrotters win on tour.  Until next time, go Rays.

What To Do With Percival and Kazmir

Instead of recapping the series the Rays split with the last place Oakland A’s (more on the epic finale later), I will contribute something of a little more importance.  Some of the series’ downfall was caused by two downtrodden pitchers: starter Scott Kazmir and closer Troy Percival.  What can we do with them?  Here are some viable options.

First, there is the case of Dontrelle Kazmir.  Excuse me, Scott Ankiel.  Regardless of his name, Kazmir has gone 4–4 this season, which is not even the worst record on his team.  However, his ERA is an alarming 7.69 and he has allowed seven earned runs in each of his last two starts.  29 walks and only 35 strikeouts in 45.2 innings will never get the job done for him.  Especially with his fastball only occasionally reaching 91 miles per hour, when he should be regularly hitting 94.  But it usually stays around 88.  His slider is as flat as cardboard.  He says he is 100% healthy, physically.  But there are mechanical and mental blocks so large a bulldozer couldn’t knock them down.

Joe Maddon has stated that he will stay with Kazmir, on schedule as he has been.  But I think he needs more evaluation and another solution.  I have two possible ideas.

One possibility is to move him to the bullpen.  He can work off to the side on his mechanics and get his head back in the game.  Pitching only one or two innings at a time, he can let it fly without fearing an early exit.  Barry Zito’s demotion to the Giants’ bullpen last season did him well.  Why not try it here?

The other option is to send him down to minor league rehab.  Kazmir would have to accept the assignment, but I think he should if he knows what the long–term effects can be.  He can be sent to AAA, or even AA Montgomery.  Jeremy Hellickson has pitched very well there this year, and once he returns from shoulder spasms he can go to Durham with either David Price or Wade Davis being called up to the Rays.  A stint in either AA or AAA would do Kazmir good as he can pitch pressure–free and get his old self back.  It may be starting to work for Dontrelle Willis.  Maybe we should go for it here if everyone will go through with the plan.

The other concern is Troy “Tank” Percival.  He was saved in today’s game, but only after he loaded the bases and fell behind every hitter into three–ball counts.  In 14 appearances, his ERA is 6.35 and opponents have hit .304 against him.  This from a guy whose career opponents’ batting average is .135.  He never seems to get through an inning easily, if at all.  He scares every Rays fan and has driven some to drinking.

After watching him blow games (he is 6–for–6 in save opportunities, but not without some heart attacks) since the middle of last season, I have come to the conclusion that he is a worthless hack.  Tampa Bay Rays management, it is now time that Troy Percival be released from the team, effective immediately.  A Kazmir move to the bullpen could hold the spot until the return of Chad Bradford.  Jason Isringhausen can lead a committee of closers.  We have depth with the likes of Wheeler, Balfour, Howell, Shouse and Nelson, all of whom have a better recent track record than Percival.  He is very replaceable.

With that out of the way, I will soon talk about that huge win today and what a lift Ben Zobrist brings to the Rays.

An Uptonian Swing, A Utopian Finish

The Tampa Bay Rays have put themselves too far behind to win on too many nights this season.  The comeback spirit has been limited in appearance and longevity.

It rose from the grave dramatically Friday night.

The Rays hosted the Cleveland Indians, needing to get back on track after the James Shields loss Thursday night.  Scott Kazmir fired rockets right out of the gate — off the bats, that is.  Grady Sizemore hit the game’s first strike over the wall and gave Cleveland a 1–0 lead.  Kazmir would be tagged for seven earned runs in just 3.1 innings.  This jobber of a performance appeared to be enough to carry the Indians to victory.

But even down 7–0, the Rays stayed in the game.

A pair of defensive gems in the fourth inning limited the damage.  Gabe Gross made a leaping catch at the wall to turn a Matt LaPorta bases–clearing extra–base hit into a sacrifice fly.  The very next batter singled to center field, at which point B.J. Upton fired a strike to the plate and nailed Mark DeRosa on a great block of the plate by Dioner Navarro.  Though the call was borderline at best, the Rays needed it and took it.  (Indians manager Eric Wedge did not, however, and was ejected.)

Tampa Bay threw together a string of hits in the bottom half and made it a 7–3 game.  This was at least within striking distance.  The highlights were an Upton steal of third base following a double and a series of singles from the middle of the lineup.  Lance Cormier shut down Cleveland for 2.2 innings of scoreless, hitless relief.  If not for him, the score would have likely been more like 12–3 and the Rays would have rolled up the sidewalk and shut it down.  The sixth inning saw two more runs to inch closer at 7–5.  Carl Crawford earned his 23rd stolen base in as many attempts, then scored on an Evan Longoria single.  A short–hop throw on a double play attempt by Jamey Carroll scored Longoria and made it a two–run deficit.

Troy Percival pitched (in middle relief where he belongs) a perfect seventh inning.  The Rays brought it to within one run in the bottom of that inning on a Jason Bartlett double, Navarro sacrifice bunt (which he has executed proficiently as of late) and a wild pitch.  See, kids, runs can be manufactured too.  Upton (11) and Crawford (24) executed a double steal, but Longoria struck out and Willy Aybar popped up the first pitch following an intentional walk to Carlos Pena.  Bases left loaded once again; Rays very close, but still not there.

J.P. Howell rolled through the eighth inning (not before a disagreement with Victor Martinez), then Ben Zobrist led off for the Rays.  Here he comes again when he needs to tie the game on one swing.  He fouled off Rafael Betancourt’s first pitch about 300 feet down the right field line.  Well, at least he knew how to time the fastball.  He got another one, and you know the rest… Mr. Timing has done it again!  The Rays come all the way back in a game presumably left for dead and force the tie.  And I am now convinced that Ben Zobrist can hit a home run whenever he wants to.  That man can play god with a bat.

Shin–Soo Choo, who homered early in the game, led off the ninth inning with a single.  Dan Wheeler came in and got himself two outs before walking Ryan Garko on four pitches, two of which could have been called strikes.  Matt LaPorta could have welcomed himself to the Major Leagues with one swing, but a fly ball fell into Upton’s glove at the warning track.  Game still tied 7–7.

Bottom of the ninth inning, the Indians had only one hit after the fourth inning, during which time the Rays had overcome the largest deficit ever to be erased in franchise history.  B.J. Upton, who had suddenly started swinging the bat like he should (2–for–4 with some nice, long at–bats) led off against Luis Vizcaino.  Upton got to 3–1 before a solid swing produced a line drive down the left field line, but foul for strike two.  He has had trouble with two strike counts and high fastballs this season.  In fact, he has had trouble with almost everything.  Not a single home run has he hit in over a month since returning to the lineup.  Vizcaino gave him a high fastball, the bat connected… and you can cue a slow motion effect and John Williams’ “Chariots of Fire” because that ball is gone and the postseason Bossman Junior Upton is back!  The Rays came back from seven runs down a few innings into the game and gave the home fans an epic win to cheer about.  They beat the Indians 8–7 and made the top of every highlight show in America.  Not to mention, they might have turned their season around.

I always like to compare this team with a 1992 Braves due to last year’s striking resemblance to the 1991 Braves.  That Braves team was under .500 in last place in the final week of May, then rumbled back and ended up in the World Series.  This team may once again be mimicking their path to glory.  This was a key turning point that will not soon be forgotten.

All this on a day where the (modern–day) Braves had a walk-off win of their own.  And so did the Yankees.  We can settle for two out of three.  But the Rays had the single greatest walk-off victory of the entire season to this point.  They were written off by everyone except themselves.  Special thanks to the bullpen and the entire lineup, especially Upton and Zobrist.  You earned this, now even Kazmir can celebrate tonight.

Until next time, go Rays.

How About Winning a Series For Once?

It would certainly be nice to see the Rays win a series for a change.  They have found every possible way to lose them so far.  They still have not taken a series since the first one of the season against the Red Sox.

(By the way, I now have outfield tickets to the May 1 Rays–Red Sox game.  Section 147, Row MM if you would like to drop in.)

The opening game of the Twins series at the Metrodome was an easy victory behind Jeff Niemann, of all people, who has won his last two starts by comfortable margins.  Jason Bartlett burned his former team with his third home run of the year (already), fittingly over Delmon Young’s glove.  Carlos Pena teed off with a mammoth home run off the facing of the upper deck in right center field.  This was a phenomenal way to kick off a series.

The way it ended, on the other hand, was phenomenally bad.  The second game started off on the wrong foot with a home run by Justin Morneau.  A late 3–2 Minnesota lead, however, was squashed by pinch hitter Ben Zobrist, who hit a rocket over the right center field bag to tie the game.  Mr. Timing, ladies and gentlemen.  When does he not hit big home runs?  However, J.P. Howell threw the game away by loading the bases to set up the rare walk–off fielder’s choice by Morneau.

The next game was infinitely worse, with Scott Kazmir imploding for eight runs, six earned, in four innings as the Rays fell 8–3.  Carl Crawford did pick up his eighth stolen base.  But he may have needed about seven to win the game on his own.  Lance Cormier held the fort down in relief, but again, too little, too late.  The Twins were able to string together hits and score multitudes of runs.  They also see pitches well, not striking out often and drawing walks.  They are a very good team of hitters, but annoying to face.

Speaking of annoying, the Red Sox come to town for four games as the Rays face a quick turnaround back to St. Petersburg.  Maybe a little home cooking with the enemy in town can finally spark the team.  I will be there Friday night hosting a live roast of Boston’s players.  Be there or consider yourself as good as a bandwagon hopper.

In other news, congratulations to the Gaither High School baseball team on stopping the no–hitter streak of Mitchell’s Patrick Schuster.  Gaither is my alma mater, so of course I was going for the Cowboys to win and win big.  Schuster had an amazing streak, so for that I congratulate him too.  But Gaither has a great program headed by a legendary coach who would not roll over and play TV prop.  For more on that, check out my blog entry here.

On a final note, I interviewed former Yankees pitcher Sam Militello for my college newspaper.  He is now a coach at my school, The University of Tampa, also his alma mater.  The one–time top prospect has an interesting story, from triumph to tragedy and around again.  He is also the subject of a mini–documentary film project for one of my classes.  I may post that soon.  For now, the article is available here.

Until next time, go Rays, Cowboys and Spartans.