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Time on disabled list could give Tampa Bay Rays' Scott Kazmir a fresh start

Some Scott Kazmir 2009 numbers: 7.69 ERA, .316 opponents’ batting average.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Some Scott Kazmir 2009 numbers: 7.69 ERA, .316 opponents’ batting average.

You know a guy is having a tough year when, upon hearing that he is hurt, the first thing you think to say to him is, "Hey … congratulations."

That's how bad things have gone for Scott Kazmir, the ace-turned-deuce of the Rays' pitching rotation. For Kazmir, this season has been like getting trapped in hell's outhouse. He has been embarrassed by his ERA. He has been whipped by his WHIP. Magically, he has acquired the ability to transform pedestrian hitters into Ted Williams.

Keeping all that in mind, what's a little stopover on the disabled list?

This could be a good thing for Kazmir, a good thing for the Rays, a good thing for everyone involved. Kazmir can use the break because of his sore thigh, and everyone else can use it because of their sore eyes.

For some time, it has been obvious the mound is no longer Kazmir's friend. His mechanics have been so out of whack, he can't fix them on the fly. And the more he has tinkered, the worst things have gotten. In some ways, Kazmir is lucky it is his leg that hurts, not his arm.

When you consider the other options — the bullpen, the minors — the DL might give Kazmir the best chance at a fresh start. Think of it like this: Going on the disabled list might end Troy Percival's career, but it might save Kazmir's.

I know what you're thinking. Considering how Kazmir has pitched, a sore thigh seems awfully convenient. It's easy to wink and wonder who informed Kazmir that he was hurt and whether they told him which leg it was.

Ah, but the Rays swear the leg really is hurt. That's how bad his delivery has been. His body rejected it.

Of course, it would be better to believe the bad mechanics occurred because of the injured thigh rather than the other way around. That way, once the thigh is healed, Kaz would be fine.

Instead, even when he is healthy again, Kazmir has work to do to repair his mechanics and reclaim his reputation. Lately, it seems people have forgotten about all the talent that is stuffed into his left sleeve.

Silly me. Not long ago, I thought this was going to be his breakout year.

After all, Kazmir is 25, and for pitchers, that's graduation time. By the time a pitcher reaches 25, he is old enough to have seen the league and young enough to be able to tame it.

At 25, Tom Glavine had his first 20-win season. At 25, Roy Halladay went from five victories to 19. At 25, Sandy Koufax jumped from eight victories to 18. At 25, Nolan Ryan improved from 10 victories to 19. At 25, Johan Santana went from 12 wins to 20. The list goes on.

In other words, if a pitcher is going to turn into something special, 25 is a pretty good time to get it started. Instead, Kazmir's season has turned into a horror show. If the flames were not so majestic, you could not bear to watch.

For instance:

• Kazmir has an ERA of 7.69, which means he's giving up a touchdown a game. That ranks 44th in the American League and, near as I can tell, 54th in the NFL.

• Kazmir has a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 1.95, which is 46th in the AL.

• Opponents are hitting .316 against Kazmir. That's 43rd in the AL. Throw in that Kazmir is also 46th in walks per nine innings and you get the picture. He's pitched out of the stretch so often, he should be able to touch the catwalks by now.

None of this is meant to run the score up on Kazmir, because frankly, too much of that has gone on. It's just to show the depth of his struggles and the distance from which he has to return.

No matter what it says publicly, at this point, the Rays organization has to be concerned. Why did Kazmir's mechanics break down in the first place? Why have they been so hard to fix? Is the root of the problem something physical or something mental?

Most of all, will Kazmir be the same again?

Still, he is 25, and a lot of successful pitchers were struggling at 25. No matter how frustrated fans have been with Kazmir, talent like his is worth salvaging.

The shame of all this is that starting pitching is supposed to be the strength of this franchise. That always has been the most important part of the Rays' blueprint. Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza were supposed to be the new Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, remember?

This was supposed to be the year the run really began. Like Kazmir, Garza is 25, and Shields is 27.

So far, Garza has pitched as if he's ready to take his career to another level. Shields has had a few rough spots, but pretty much, his numbers are still good.

Kazmir? Kazmir has been body-snatched by Wilson Alvarez.

Who knows? The disabled list might be a sanctuary for him. All things considered, disability is a better thing to endure than inability.

Time on disabled list could give Tampa Bay Rays' Scott Kazmir a fresh start 05/23/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 24, 2009 8:05am]
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