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Rays' Maddon stretches Kazmir to boost confidence

Manager Joe Maddon allowed Scott Kazmir to work through six innings and throw 114 pitches in his last start, at Texas.

Associated Press

Manager Joe Maddon allowed Scott Kazmir to work through six innings and throw 114 pitches in his last start, at Texas.

CHICAGO — It may have been just one extra inning.

But to LHP Scott Kazmir, when manager Joe Maddon allowed him to finish the sixth in his last start in Texas — to get his first victory since July 21 — it could have served as a springboard for late-season success, beginning tonight against the White Sox.

Kazmir hadn't lasted six innings in his previous four starts and had struggled with his mechanics, partly from trying to do too much. So in preparing for today's matchup with the hot-hitting White Sox, he's keeping it pretty simple.

"If I just worry about trying to get hitters out, I won't have to worry about what I'll have to do with my mechanics," Kazmir said. "I just think me getting a lot of innings that really helps me out. I feel like I'm better late in the season; my bullpen went great, and I hope to feed off that last start."

Maddon said everything is physically fine with Kazmir, who has won just three of his past 13 starts. "He's throwing the ball great; his slider is still not as effective as maybe it had been, but his changeup is still very good," Maddon said.

The key, according to Maddon, is Kazmir's confidence. That is why he allowed the All-Star lefty to pitch the extra inning in his last start (and throw 114 pitches).

"So much of this game that we do here is all what we're thinking," Maddon said. "If he's thinking better going into this next game, it can make all the difference in the world. … It's all about how he feels, his confidence. Giving him the extra inning the other day and having it turn out as well as it did, I'd like to believe it's going to help him (today)."

FEELING FRESH: LHP reliever J.P. Howell appeared in a game Friday for the first time in six days (giving up a two-run homer Alexei Ramirez in the eighth). Howell, whom Maddon called one of the team's MVPs this season, said a reason for the long stretch between stints is that he has been bothered by stiffness in his back and legs. Howell said it was an expected feeling of fatigue considering it's his first full season in the big leagues, and the fact the Rays rested him has allowed him to feel "way better."

Before Friday's outing, Howell, 25, already held the franchise record for relief innings by a left-hander (682/3 innings, which is seventh in the majors). Though he had held up well (6-0, 2.36 ERA), in his previous outing at Texas on Aug. 16 he gave up two runs on three hits in just one-third of an inning.

"I was kind of cramping up everywhere," he said. "Overall, I was just beat. It was my back, legs, everything — every day it was something new. So they said, 'Take it easy.' "

Maddon said Howell is fine but, "I'm just trying to be very prudent with him right now."

LESSON LEARNED: Maddon said he had a "good conversation" with OF Justin Ruggiano, who approached the manager to discuss why he let a fly ball in Wednesday's ninth-inning loss to the Angels fall in front of him. Maddon said he appreciated Ruggiano's honesty — that he didn't lose the ball in the lights — but urged him to play aggressively. Ruggiano said he stopped short because he didn't want to risk diving and allowing the ball to get by him.

"I told him, 'If you think you can catch the ball, I want you to go for it,' " Maddon said. "I don't want us to play back at any time. I don't want us to ever be concerned about making a mistake. I said I'll always defend an aggressive mistake. … I think he understood the message."

MISCELLANY: Rocco Baldelli played for the first time in six days, going 2-for-4 with his first homer since May 3, 2007. Rookie 3B Evan Longoria's scheduled X-ray on his fractured wrist was moved to Monday. … Maddon said he has met with his coaches and executive vice president Andrew Friedman about the team's September call-ups, and "we pretty much have an idea of what we'd like to do."

Rays' Maddon stretches Kazmir to boost confidence 08/22/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 5:29pm]

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