BOSTON — The good news was that Scott Kazmir felt fine, the spring training elbow strain that delayed his season debut until Sunday not the slightest issue.
But it was how he pitched that was the problem, with poor mechanics resulting in a lack of command and velocity, leading to an erratic, and abbreviated, effort in a 7-3 loss. A week after sweeping the Red Sox, the Rays were swept and headed to Toronto for a welcomed day off, just a game over .500 at 16-15.
"My arm felt great, it was just a matter of my mechanics," Kazmir said. "Maybe I was just doing a little too much."
Kazmir lasted just four innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits, three walks and a wild pitch, and clocking mostly in the 89-91 mph range, a few miles slower than normal.
Of the 90 pitches (35 balls) he threw, he said there were only six or seven "where I felt everything was where I wanted," as he was repeatedly "flying open," a pitcher's term for coming out of his usual delivery, from the footwork up. As a result, the ball was running in on left-handed hitters and away from righties more than he liked, and his velocity was lacking because he didn't have the usual power from his legs.
He attributed the mechanical breakdowns mainly to rust, and to being too anxious.
"It was just frustrating," Kazmir said. "It's never been that bad, where you're fighting it the whole time.
"Hopefully, that was just the first start, knocking the kinks out and everything, and the next one hopefully I won't be battling myself."
Manager Joe Maddon saw it much the same way and threw in the difficult setting, with raw weather (49 degrees and damp) and a tough Red Sox team that was swinging well.
"Obviously he wasn't as sharp as he can be," Maddon said. "His velocity was down just a little. Overall he just couldn't find a really good rhythm. His strike-throwing wasn't as consistent as you'd like to see it.
"Nevertheless, a good first start. He looked healthy, and I'm sure he's going to build on it."
Kazmir has until Saturday, when he is scheduled to face the Angels at Tropicana Field, to review video, work out his mechanical issues and regain his touch.
But Sunday, he put the Rays in a hole as the surging Sox scored in the first, third and fourth innings and built a 4-0 lead.
The Rays closed to 4-3, after Carlos Pena hit his first homer since April 12 in the sixth, when they strung together a single by Jason Bartlett, a triple by Akinori Iwamura (his fifth extra-base hit of the season) and a single by Carl Crawford in the seventh. But the Sox answered with a Kevin Youkilis homer in their seventh and added two more in the eighth.
Much like he expects Kazmir to rebound, Maddon figures the team will do the same, starting Tuesday, rather than letting the three-game sweep spiral into something worse.
"I don't see it as being devastating to this group at all," he said. "I think they understand what just happened: We got beat by a good team. We beat them last week. Both of these teams realize we can beat each other. You have to pitch and play it well, with intensity, or you're going to lose. They just beat us."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.