After a nice, relaxing day off for most of the Rays (although Joe Maddon did have to go through a colonoscopy), the Rays are back in action this afternoon versus the Pirates in Bradenton. Here’s the lineup:
Versatility is the most interesting part of this game as Fontenot, a primary second baseman, is at shortstop, Rodriguez heads to left field after playing his last couple of games in center, and both members of the backup catcher competition will see time in this game with Lobaton catching and Gimenez at third base. That’s Rays baseball at its best. On the pitching side, three of the Rays top young pitchers will see time as Cobb starts and Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are set to appear later in the game. Should be another fun day, and hopefully the Rays can continue their strong spring with another win. For what’s it’s worth, the Rays would move into first place in the Grapefruit League with a win and an Orioles loss.
When Scott Kazmir was at his peak, there was nothing hitters could do. His mid-90’s fastball went right past them time after time and his slider seemed to disappear right as they swung as Kazmir struck out 9.7 batters per 9 innings from 2004 through 2008 including 10.3 per 9 between 2006 and 2007. Then suddenly, it all disappeared. Kazmir’s velocity slipped from 93 to 95 MPH to 90 to 92 and he lost his feel for his slider. The Rays traded him in 2009 and after a break renaissance with the Angels at the end of that season, his career went into a free-fall. He managed just a 5.94 ERA in 2010, and after one start in 2011 where his fastball didn’t touch 90 MPH a single time, he was done- or so we thought.
Kazmir is back in major league camp with the Cleveland Indians, and while he’s unlikely to ever achieve the same measure of success, he has impressed the Indians with stuff reminiscent of his Rays days. Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk watched Kazmir pitch a game at the Indians’ spring home in Goodyear, Arizona, and the results were quite impressive as he struck out 3 while allowing just 1 hit and no other baserunners in 2 innings of work. Standing out even more, though, was his fastball, which hit 93 MPH and stayed in the 91-92 MPH range, and his slider, which he had some troubles commanding but also features the type of deception and dynamic great that befuddled hitters or years. Kazmir still has much to prove as he fight for the Indians’ fifth starter spot. But if his arsenal stays this sharp and he continues to progress as the spring continues, he has the ability to not just return to the major leagues but also find a measure of success. The Indians face the Rays at Tropicana Field in both teams’ second series of the season, and every Rays fan has to hoping that Kazmir takes the hill for one of those games.