Rays Notes: Scott Kazmir Sharp in Puerto Rican Winter League Debut
By Robbie Knopf
Scott Kazmir faces a long road back to the major leagues- but you can’t count him out yet. The Rays former ace has his fastball velocity back into the low-90’s and has the will to persevere through everything he has gone through and keep his dream alive. On Wednesday, Kazmir showed flashes of being the pitcher we remember so fondly in a Rays uniform, and maybe, just maybe, turned a corner in his comeback attempt.
Arizona Fall League: Phoenix Desert Dogs 8, Mesa Solar Sox 3
It was the fall finale for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, and they were able to end it on a high note. Among the Rays prospects, Kevin Kiermaier had a big game, going 2 for 3 with a triple, a walk, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, Richie Shaffer went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored, Tim Beckham went 1 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored, and Hak-Ju Lee went 0 for 3 but walked twice and stole a base. Lenny Linsky allowed a run on 2 hits and a walk in an inning of work in relief. Kiermaier was easily the Rays’ best player of the fall, posting a .348/.444/.493 line with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 7 RBI, 7 of 7 stolen bases, and a 12-12 strikeout to walk ratio in 23 games and 69 at-bats. Shaffer, meanwhile, posted just a .259/.344/.370 line, just decent, but that was while playing on the taxi squad, appearing just twice a week most of the season, and when he finally had an opportunity to start over the last week of the season, he went 7 for 20 (.350) with 2 doubles, a triple, and 3 strikeouts against 2 walks.
Mexican Pacific League: Yaquis de Obregon 11, Aguilas de Mexicali 3
Anyone remember Bobby Cramer? I would guess not. Cramer was signed by the Devil Rays as a nondrafted free agent back in 2003 and did nothing but pitch well in 2003 and 2004 before the D-Rays, in their infinite wisdom, released him. Cramer wound up making 9 big league appearances in 2010 and 2011 for the Oakland Athletics, posting a rock solid 2.53 ERA, before splitting 2012 between Japan and the Mexican League. In any event, Cramer started in this game for Obregon and was great, allowing just 1 run on 1 hit in 6 innings, striking out 4 while walking 3. Ex-Rays prospect Iker Franco homered to support Cramer while Jon Weber went 0 for 2 for Mexicali.
Caneros de los Mochis 9, Naranjeros de Hermosillo 0
A couple of ex-Rays appeared for Hermosillo, with Jorge Cantu going 1 for 3 with a double and Humberto Cota going 0 for 2 with a walk, but the story in this game was Caneros starter Pedro Luis Lazo. Lazo, 39, went 7 innings allowing just 3 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. Who is Lazo? Only one of the greatest pitchers in the history of Cuban baseball, winning a Cuban-record 257 games plus 23 more in international competitions. Lazo and Jose Contreras were the aces of the Pinar del Rio franchise in Cuba in 2002, and Contreras decided to defect following the season and sign with the Yankees while Lazo stayed in Cuba. Lazo, even at age 39, throws 93 MPH with a sharp mid-80’s slider. If he had come to the big leagues, who knows how good he could have been! So wait a second, if Lazo was the one who stayed loyal to Cuba, how did he end up in the Mexican Pacific League? The answer is that the Cuban government gave him special permission from the Cuban government to sign a contract with the Piratas de Campeche in the Mexican League in 2012 and apparently extended the agreement so he could play in the MPL as well. Lazo had an excellent season in 2012 as a reliever for Campeche, going 2-2 with 2.25 ERA, an 8.5 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 33 relief appearances and 36 innings pitched, and although he wasn’t as sharp in his first 3 starts for the Caneros, he was absolutely vintage on Thursday night. It’s really cool to see a baseball legend who has gone largely unrecognized because he stayed in Cuba face off against current and former big leaguers- and considering how good he is at 39 years old, we can only imagine how good he was in his prime.
Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico): Gigantes de Carolina 10, Leones de Ponce 6
It tells you how serious Scott Kazmir is in his comeback attempt that he spent this season embarrassing himself in Independent Ball and came to Puerto Rico knowing he might do more of the same. He doesn’t need the money after making over 30 million dollars in the major leagues. His fire just hasn’t left and he’s not quitting until he knows for sure he can’t do it. This game began looking like a disaster. Kazmir, pitching for Carolina, allowed a single, a walk, and then a double steal to begin the game. Nationals prospect Zach Walters grounded an RBI single to make it 1-0 Ponce. After Kazmir notched a strikeout, he picked off Walters but a run scored on the play to make it 2-0 Ponce. But from then on, Kazmir rolled. He struck out 3 of the next 4 batters he faced and allowed just one hit the rest of his outing. Kazmir went 4 innings allowing just the two first inning runs on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1 and managing an impressive 8-1 groundball to flyball ratio. Kazmir still has plenty of work to do, but he still has something left. Hopefully he can continue progressing in Puerto Rico to the point that he gets offers minor league offers from teams for next season. Who knows- maybe the Rays could even come calling.
Venezuelan Winter League: Leones del Caracas 7, Navegantes de Magallanes 6
Always fun to watch these Leones-Navegantes games because there are so many current and former Rays between the two teams. Five appeared in this game alone. Erold Andrus did everything he could do to nail down the win for Magallanes, going 4 for 5 with 2 doubles, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Leslie Anderson went 2 for 5. Henry Wrigley went 1 for 4 with a run scored. But at the end of the game, it game down to a pair of ex-Rays relievers, Victor Zambrano, who was of course traded for Scott Kazmir, and Jean Machi, who spent a couple ill-fated years in the Rays system but made the major leagues this season with the San Francisco Giants. Zambrano worked around a hit and a walk in the 8th for Caracas before Anderson and Andrus tagged him for hits in the 9th, but Juan Gutierrez, the ex-Diamondbacks reliever, escaped that jam. Machi then came in for the bottom of the 9th for Magallanes, but with 1 out and a man on 1st base, former Diamondbacks outfielder Josh Kroeger slammed a walk-off 2-run home run as the Leones came away with a dramatic 7-6 win.