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Rays' Kazmir says mechanical tweak should improve performance

OAKLAND, Calif. — LHP Scott Kazmir said a small adjustment in his stride should result in a big improvement in his pitching tonight.

Kazmir has been a mess lately, struggling to throw strikes due to problems with mechanics. He has failed to last six innings in eight of his past 10 starts and didn't get through five in his past two.

After talks with manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Jim Hickey and assistant Brian Anderson, Kazmir said he adjusted his stride in a bullpen session Friday, and the results were obvious.

"It felt good when I was done," Kazmir said. "Actually it felt great."

In simple form, Kazmir said his stride had been too long, resulting in a "stiff front leg" that prevented him getting over the top to deliver his pitches. Now his leg is bent "so I can actually get through the ball."

The physical problems led to some mind games, as Kazmir's confidence waned and he started to think too much, which made things worse.

"That's always been the battle," Kazmir said, "and once we get past that, I think everything's going to be great because I'm going to be able to throw all my pitches where I want to. So it's getting better. It's getting a lot better."

Maddon said the improvement should be obvious.

"Kaz is wide open right now, and I really appreciate how he's going about putting himself back together," Maddon said. "I think he's doing all the right things, and I think you're going to see it next time out. I really expect to see better from him."

The keys, Maddon said, are "being a more consistent strike thrower, getting his fastball command back and getting the feel of the slider."

Close shave: OF Rocco Baldelli's beard had become a symbol of his efforts to return to the majors, and RHP Andy Sonnanstine grew one a few months ago in a show of solidarity.

"He supported us coming to the games earlier this year, and it was something I could do for him until he got back," Sonnanstine said.

So when Baldelli found out late Saturday he'd be back Sunday, he went down to Sonnanstine's room to share the moment.

And to shave the beards.

"We trimmed it up, and we played with it a little bit," Sonnanstine said. "We took it down to just the goatee, then just some handlebars to see how it looked. We took some pictures and stuff. It was cool."

Do the hustle: The key play in Friday's game was a throwing error by Seattle SS Yuniesky Betancourt that led to three runs. But Maddon considers it something of a forced error because of the way Carl Crawford hustled to first — a point the Rays have stressed.

"The throwing error I think is the residue of the way we've been running to first base, I really do," Maddon said. "You keep doing that, and you apply that kind of pressure to the defense, and eventually they're going to make mistakes."

Miscellany: TBS has picked up the Aug. 24 game in Chicago for national airing. … RHP Heath Rollins, 5-11, 3.30 at Class A Vero Beach, was promoted to Double-A Montgomery to replace LHP David Price, who makes his first Triple-A start Wednesday. … Maddon said he spoke to B.J. Upton to make sure he understood the rule about scoring before the third out is made elsewhere.

Rays' Kazmir says mechanical tweak should improve performance 08/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 6:19pm]
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