ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged that the puzzling struggles of left-hander Scott Kazmir have been "exasperating for everybody."
But they have been most frustrating for Kazmir, who says he's healthy and believes he has been making progress in his yearlong battle with mechanics and "fighting myself" on the mound.
However, after Kazmir's struggles continued in another abbreviated outing in Wednesday's 7-6 loss to the last-place A's in front of 13,721 at Tropicana Field, nobody had the answer for how — and when — the two-time All-Star will regain his form.
Kazmir gave up seven runs on eight hits in just 41/3 innings and was booed at times. In his past five starts, Kazmir is 1-3 with an 11.35 ERA, and opponents are hitting .393 against him. His ERA (7.69) is the highest it has been at any point in his career, aside from his first start of a season.
But Maddon said Kazmir hasn't given up on himself, and the Rays won't give up on him.
"Words can't explain it; I'm very frustrated, very frustrated," Kazmir said. "I'll do everything it takes to get back to where I know I need to be. I think that I'm definitely progressing, definitely getting to where I want to be. Just got to keep fighting."
The Rays (20-22) showed their fight Wednesday, nearly saving Kazmir for the second straight start with a memorable comeback.
After trailing by five, the Rays pulled to within a run and loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs, but Willy Aybar grounded out to end the threat. In the ninth, with Ben Zobrist on first, B.J. Upton was robbed of a potential tying extra-base hit when A's centerfielder Ryan Sweeney made a spectacular diving catch in the left-center gap. Carlos Peña had a two-run homer, snapping a seasonlong streak of 11 games without one.
"Our effort was fabulous; everybody was doing all the right things," Maddon said. "It just didn't work out tonight. If we play with that kind of emotion and intensity on a nightly basis, I'd be very happy with that."
Kazmir wasn't happy with the results. For the fourth time in his past five starts, he allowed at least six runs and didn't last more than five innings. He said he did a better job of not thinking about his mechanics on the mound, but after throwing some good pitches, he'd "go back to the bad habits that I've developed over the last year and this year."
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you I have a lot of good answers; I don't," Maddon said. "All the things we've thought, we've tried. We've just got to continue to push it forward."
Kazmir got himself in trouble with walks (he had four) and falling behind hitters, saying he'd get in and out of a rhythm. All in all, Kazmir has given up two-thirds as many runs (41) as he had all of last season (61), and nearly half the amount of hits (60 vs. 123).
"When everything felt good in (2007), it was just me getting the ball and firing it in there and not worrying about it," Kazmir said. "I guess, from last year, it's tough to eliminate bad habits after you create them and went with them for so long. I feel like there's a couple pitches I could look at and be like, 'That's me.' But then, I'd fall back into the bad habits. It's definitely a fight. But I'm making steps."