Kazmir's ineffectiveness still an issue

BOSTON -- Thursday night presented Scott Kazmir with every opportunity to prove himself at last to his new teammates. What he didn't do in the playoffs last year, he could have done in this early-season time of need.

The Los Angeles Angels, stuck in a miserable slump, went out and did something rare. They handed a starting pitcher a 4-0 lead.

But instead, Kazmir slowly unraveled, giving up a two-run home run to Victor Martinez in the third and blowing it all by the fifth. The Angels frittered it away and lost their seventh straight game, 11-6 to the Boston Red Sox.

Like most of the Angels' starting pitchers, Kazmir isn't holding up his end of the bargain. His performance is causing mounting frustration for the Angels. They see evidence that Kazmir is regaining the power slider that made him one of the nastiest pitchers in the league four seasons ago. He flashes it in between-starts bullpen sessions, but when the lights come on, where is it? The loss of the pitch has made him one of the league's least-effective starters, a distinction he and the Angels' other lefty, Joe Saunders, share.

The Angels aren't entirely sure why Kazmir has turned himself into a two-pitch pitcher, someone with a strong changeup and a decent fastball, but nothing that can put hitters away.

"I think it's more of a confidence thing," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "I'm seeing that good slider that I saw back in 2006, but for whatever reason, he's not bringing it into games. It's more of a psychological thing, to me."

Kazmir said he has been hesitant to throw the pitch because he rarely has been ahead in the count. He must have had a few opportunities over his 107-pitch, 4 1/3-inning stint Thursday.

"It feels like it's starting to come along. I just haven't really transferred it into the game," Kazmir said.

The Angels' offense clearly hasn't found its stride, but scoring six runs in the first six innings should at least have given them a fighting chance. Instead, the Angels were swamped by the middle innings, the usual combination of shoddy starting pitching and sloppy middle relief. It's becoming almost comical to hear the hitters try to deflect blame from a pitching staff that has been the worst in the league most of the season. For now, the Angels remain a unit. Keep losing and that could begin to fray.

"I understand our pitchers are getting in trouble, but we have to give more support, score more runs, just make them feel more comfortable," Bobby Abreu said, "especially right now they're having a lot of trouble on the mound. That's the way I see it."

Only one team in the Mike Scioscia era has ever lost as many as seven games in a row: the 2001 club, his worst. That team lost 87 games.

At one point late in Thursday's game, reliever Matt Palmer skipped a pitch to the backstop. Mike Napoli got it and threw it over Palmer's head, unaware that the runner wasn't even coming from third. This team has begun to look like a comedy troupe at times.

Scioscia gathered the team together and, according to him, told the players not to take things so hard. He continues to think the Angels' blunders are arising from trying too hard, not from focusing too little.

"Right now, we're carrying some ghosts from this week forward. You have to be able to turn the page and get to the next game and start fresh," Scioscia said. "I think that was always a strength of this group here. When you're not playing well, I think some things are starting to become distractions. Guys are starting to press because of something that happened three days ago."

Kazmir made no bones about it. He fully admits he was pressing Thursday.

You could see why, as reduced as his arsenal is. Opponents hit in the low .200s against Kazmir's slider the past three years and chased it 30 percent of the time, a stat unearthed by the ESPN.com research department. This year, when Kazmir does throw the pitch -- which is seldom -- batters are hitting .500 on it and only chasing it 7.7 percent of the time.

So he hardly takes it out of the holster. Maybe you could call him gun-shy.

Without the slider, Kazmir is a two-pitch pitcher with a couple of mediocre weapons. On an inflated radar gun, Kazmir barely touched 91 mph with his fastball. Unless Kazmir can learn to throw his good slider again, it appears the Angels will have a very expensive reclamation project on their hands.

Kazmir is signed through 2011, with an option for 2012, and the Angels are on the hook for at least $20 million.

Between Kazmir (7.11 ERA) and Joe Saunders (7.04), the Angels have two of the four least-effective starting pitchers in the American League. Only Rick Porcello in Detroit and Ben Sheets in Oakland have been worse among starters who have worked at least 30 innings.


The Angels' middle relief, as usual, was a disaster. If there is to be a shakeup, it probably will come in this area of the team, with several pitchers in danger of being released or demoted.

Brian Stokes, the pitcher they got in the Gary Matthews Jr. trade, walked two and gave up three hits in his inning of work. In 14 2/3 innings this year, Stokes has a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 2.32, an awful number.

He's not alone in the misery department. When the Angels are behind in the middle innings and their starter gets tired, it almost inevitably turns into a blowout. Stokes has a 6.14 ERA, Jason Bulger has a 5.73 ERA, Matt Palmer a 6.23 ERA and Scot Shields has a 9.39 ERA. How's that for options?

"It's always about performance here," Scioscia said. "We like some of the arms and some of the different looks that we have, but some guys are certainly struggling to bring their game out there on the mound and do it on a consistent basis. We're always looking at a couple things."

Scene and heard

Remember when umpire Joe West called out the Red Sox and New York Yankees for playing such ridiculously long games? Well, it's not just when they're playing each other, as they will be over the weekend.
The Angels and Red Sox took 37 minutes to play Thursday's first inning alone. The starting pitchers combined to walk five batters and throw 65 pitches. The game took a sluggardly three hours and 43 minutes, and the Angels' charter flight probably didn't take off until around 12:30 a.m.. They were scheduled to touch down in Seattle after 4 a.m. They are playing the Mariners at 7:10 p.m. Friday.

Quote of the day

"He just didn't look real comfortable out there on the mound tonight." -- Scioscia on Kazmir.

Looking ahead

By rule, someone will be required to win each of the next three games. The way the Angels and Seattle Mariners are going, it's kind of a toss-up. Seattle has lost six in a row. Its cleanup hitter, Milton Bradley, is out indefinitely while he tries to work through his psychological issues, and the Mariners are slumping even worse than the Angels.

The Angels' weaknesses are myriad; the Mariners' more concise. Seattle can't hit. The Mariners entered Thursday's game with 10 home runs in 27 games. By comparison, five AL teams have hit at least 30.

Of course, the Mariners have the potential to pitch well. The Angels have to face their right-handed ace, Felix Hernandez (2-2, 3.10 ERA) on Friday. He'll face Jered Weaver (3-1, 3.19), who has gone 3-2 in six head-to-head matchups with Hernandez. The Angels have won six of those games.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.