Scott Kazmir is in a good place.
Pitching another big game in Boston - high noon today, with a chance to clinch the AL division series - is one reason, a challenge he has relished, and risen to, before.
And pitching for the Angels, pitching in the postseason while his former Rays teammates have been home for a week, pitching again under coach Mike Butcher, and pitching very well, makes it even better.
"Everything's going really good - good team, good teammates, great location," Kazmir said Saturday morning by phone as the Angels began their daylong trek east. "I'm very happy. I really couldn't have wound up in a better place. I'm very lucky."
Kazmir was stunned when the Rays traded him to the Angels on Aug.28, deciding the chance to save more than $24 million and pick up three prospects (including potential 2010 second baseman Sean Rodriguez) was more valuable than what the 25-year-old lefty could do for them on the mound.
He admitted there was a bit of a transition period, to get adjusted to a new team, a new home, even his new colors, and acclimated to a new organization. But once he did, it didn't take long to realize just how well the trade worked out, especially as his old team, which lost 16 of its next 20, dropped out of playoff contention.
"Very good for me," he said, with just a bit of a laugh. "I've watched these guys over the last couple of years, and knowing that their whole team is designed on winning, and just winning. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
The Angels had their reasons for having him, beyond just adding a talented starter to their stable. One of them is what he'll be doing today: facing the Red Sox in Fenway Park, which he has done 14 times and usually with good results - 6-4, 2.82 ERA, including six shutout innings in last year's ALCS Game 5. Another, unless there are stunning turnarounds in both AL series, will come next in New York. Overall, he's 8-7, 3.65, vs. the Red Sox and 6-5, 2.67 vs. the Yankees.
"That's why they got him, because he's had success against both those teams," Baltimore manager Dave Trembley observed. "It's pretty obvious."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday night there was more to it, that "he's a young guy, who has experience pitching in the major leagues and winning in the major leagues, and that's even before you talk about postseason experience. ... He came over and gave us a big boost."
Kazmir knows what's expected of him, admitting he gets "amped up" by the stage and the surroundings of being the enemy in such passionate places.
"As soon as I got traded here, I knew we were going to be in the playoffs, and I knew I'd be facing the Red Sox and the Yankees, the beasts of the East," he said. "We'll try to get it done (today)."
Kazmir's numbers have been markedly better with the Angels, 2-2, 1.73 in six starts, than with the Rays, 8-7, 5.92 in 20, with significant drops in his hits and walks allowed.
He credited the improvement to reuniting with Butcher, who was the Rays pitching coach in 2006 when Kazmir went 10-8 with a career-best 3.24 ERA. "Me and Butch are just clicking," he said. "As soon as I got here, we started working on stuff, and it was like we picked up where we left off in '06."
Kazmir declined to go into detail except to say Butcher provided some small keys to his delivery - "Little things," he said - which led to improved mechanics and a better rhythm, along with the best slider he has had in years.
That's similar to what Kazmir said after consulting during his midseason DL stint with former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, and it leaves unsaid why he couldn't find that mechanical peace of mind with the Rays and pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Scioscia said it's a combination, that as Kazmir's mechanics improved, his arm speed increased.
Whatever the difference is, the Red Sox have noticed.
"The reports we've got, and the video we've seen, he's a little bit different than he was early on," Sox outfielder Jason Bay said Saturday. "Early on, I think his velocity was down, he was struggling with his slider a little bit. Obviously he's regained that. Over his last few starts, he's been pretty good."
Actually the way Kazmir tells it, he's been very good.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.
* * *
|As a Ray||As an Angel|
|WHIP — walks and hits per inning; /9 is average per nine innings|