Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays, Scott Kazmir disagree on why slider failed him, agree that he needs it back

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon laid out an interesting theory Monday morning, explaining that the key for Scott Kazmir to cut down his pitch count and get deeper into games is regaining the ability to throw his slider effectively.

"He's going to work on that all the time," Maddon said. "It wasn't as good last year. He struggled with it. He just struggled with the overall break and command of it."

Then after Kazmir made a solid two-inning exhibition debut Monday afternoon, he said the slider isn't a concern at all and that with his left arm "the best it's ever felt," the improvement will come naturally.

"To be honest, it seems like it really is not going to be that big of a focus," Kazmir said. "It kind of felt like I was having trouble extending (my arm) and that's why I wasn't throwing it as much. Now that everything feels good and it feels like I'm getting out there with my fastball … it's just going to kind of come back to me."

Semantics aside, it's clear the key to a better season will be for Kazmir, 25, to throw a better slider, a key complement to his fastball and changeup.

Because the slider wasn't sharp when Kazmir returned in May from a spring elbow strain, he threw it less often, and the dropoff — from 17 percent of his pitches in 2007 to just 11 percent — made life more difficult batter by batter.

"The slider is more his strikeout pitch, and he can end at-bats a lot quicker if he gets a swing-and-miss at a slider vs. a fastball or a changeup that's a little more vulnerable to a foul ball," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "And that would be key for him to shorten the inning and allow him to pitch a little deeper into games."

That has been a recurring problem. Kazmir threw 95 or more pitches in 23 of his 27 starts last season yet worked more than six innings only six times.

Maddon's theory is that Kazmir lost the feel for the slider, and the necessary adjustments may not be as much physical (such as refining his delivery or changing where he stands on the rubber) as mental.

"Maybe through different moments when his arm hasn't felt well … sometimes you come back and you're doing something slightly different that you just don't quite get, and the feeling evades you," Maddon said.

"I think you're going to see it again. I just don't know when that epiphany is going to be that permits him to find that actual or absolute release point that permits him to do what he wants to do."

Kazmir's theory is different. He said the slider isn't a feel pitch (whereas the changeup is) and the problem was that even though he recovered from the elbow strain, and went on to go 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA, plus 1-1, 4.21 in five postseason starts, his left arm was never completely right.

To throw a slider effectively, he has to get his arm completely extended. Last year, he said it was tight and he felt like he was "cutting off" his delivery, making the slider loopy, like a bad curve, and much more hittable. (And a likely reason he went from allowing one homer every 11.6 innings in 2007 to one every 6.6.)

"I really wasn't comfortable throwing it, and it was so frustrating," Kazmir said. "I would get to a situation, 0-2 and have a chance to sit down a hitter, and I felt like I just didn't have the pitch."

After an offseason stretching and workout program, Kazmir says he again has full extension. And after throwing three sliders in his 33-pitch, three-hit, one-run debut Monday, he said the improvement was obvious.

If so, the difference can be huge.

"I guess the best description is that he was a little bit restricted, whether that was a physical restriction or a mental restriction or a combination of both," Hickey said. "I think with what he's done so far in camp that we're past that, which would be really nice.

"If he does get the slider back in order, and he has the fastball and changeup going, you're seeing probably one of the top five left-handers in the game. CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, there's no reason he can't be there. And if that stuff does happen, he will be."

Marc Topkin can be reached at

Fast facts

Slip sliding

The slider is Scott Kazmir's put-away pitch, but he used it much less last year, especially in two-strike situations:

Overallwith 2
slider pct.strikes




Source: Stats Inc.

Tampa Bay Rays, Scott Kazmir disagree on why slider failed him, agree that he needs it back 03/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 1:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. U.S. repeats as Solheim Cup champion


    WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Lexi Thompson set the tone by rallying from four holes down. The rest of the Americans took it from there and restored their dominance in the Solheim Cup

    Lexi Thompson, left, comes back from four holes down to halve the day’s first singles match with Europe’s Anna Nordqvist to set the tone for the United States.
  2. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  3. Bucs journal: Demar Dotson (mild groin strain) expected back for opener


    TAMPA — The Bucs got good news Sunday on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI exam showed only a mild right groin sprain and who should be back at practice next week.

    Tackle Demar Dotson has only a mild groin strain.
  4. Bucs counting on better health creating better pass rush


    TAMPA — Ask Bucs coaches about the improved depth and health of their defensive line, and they'll look around for a piece of wood to knock on.

    Retired All-Pro defensive end  Simeon Rice, right, the last Buc to have double-digit sacks in a season,  works with defensive end Ryan Russell, who last season was promoted from the practice squad for the second half of the year as injuries piled up. He is competing for a backup job this year.
  5. Rays journal: Jake Faria heads to DL with left abdominal strain

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jacob Faria made the trek he didn't want to take after his last start. It was to the trainer's room. The pain in his left abdominal went from nagging to an issue during his start that night in Toronto.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jacob Faria (34) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 4, 2017.