Kazmir wants to straighten first frames

Kazmir wants to straighten first frames

BOSTON -- The budding Rays-Red Sox rivalry continues on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park in front of a national TV audience on FOX.

The Rays, who defeated the Red Sox in last year's American League Championship Series, have enjoyed some success against the Red Sox thus far this season, posting a 5-3 mark as they partake in their third series.

Dick Stockton, Tim McCarver and Ken Rosenthal will be calling the action as a pair of talented left-handers, Scott Kazmir and Jon Lester, square off at the historic landmark.

Kazmir has been struggling with his mechanics in the early going this season, particularly in the first inning, as he did against the Orioles on Monday, when he walked the first two hitters before surrendering a three-run homer to Nick Markakis.

In Kazmir's three losses, he has fallen behind 2-0, 3-0 and 4-0 after one inning.

On the bright side for Rays fans, Kazmir feels as though he's closer to finding his elusive mechanics.

"[The] bullpen session went well," said Kazmir of his work between starts. "I was watching a lot of video throughout the four days, and I feel like I'm really getting on to something. The direction feels good. So I'll go from there."

When asked specifically about getting out of the gate a little sooner, Kazmir said he didn't think that he would change his warmup or pregame routine.

"It's just a matter of me treating it like I'm already in the game," he said. "When I get to the second or third inning, I'm really attacking hitters. You can't put your finger on one thing.

"I just need to go out there and attack the zone -- feel like I'm already in the third inning, runners on, the intensity. I think the intensity needs to be there from the get-go. ... It just seems like I need to go out there and not hold back."

Kazmir began the 2008 season on the disabled list with left elbow soreness, and the delayed start to his season took its toll on his slider, arguably his best pitch. He never did get comfortable throwing the slider last year, which left him primarily as a two-pitch pitcher -- fastball and changeup. But the slider is back this year, and so is his health.

"All the pitches are there," he said. "[The] fastball's not there, but I think that's just a minor adjustment with my mechanics. ... [It] just seems like I have no torque with anything, because I'm throwing across my body. I just don't have that straight back to the plate, good direction. So I feel like once I get that, everything will fall into place."

Manager Joe Maddon said that even though he is concerned about Kazmir's mechanics, he's not overly concerned. He pointed out how he liked the way Kazmir has typically smoothed out his outings after the first inning.

"More than anything, if we can just get him out of the chute more clean, that seems to be the issue," Maddon said. "Because once he gets rolling, he seems to be fine. That's happened to other pitchers historically.

"You get them out of that early part of the game, and then everything settles in. So that's going to be our emphasis -- just pretend it's the second inning in the first, somehow, and see if we can move him forward."

Pitching matchup
TB: LHP Scott Kazmir (3-3, 6.00 ERA)
Kazmir made his sixth start of the season on Monday night, against the Orioles, and found trouble from the beginning. He managed to give the Rays 6 1/3 innings, but he allowed six earned runs to take his third loss of the season. He is 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 22 career starts against the Red Sox, and 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 12 starts at Fenway Park.

BOS: LHP Jon Lester (2-2, 5.11 ERA)
The power lefty is coming off one of his best performances of the season, when he struck out 10 over seven innings in a win over the Yankees on Monday, when he allowed six hits and three runs. This is his second start of the season against the Rays. He didn't fare well in the first one, giving up eight hits and five runs over five innings. In his career against the Rays, he is 4-1 with a 3.97 ERA.

Sean Riggans (right shoulder tendinitis) made his third rehab appearance with Double-A Montgomery on Thursday night and had to leave the game after 3 2/3 innings after he aggravated the shoulder. He will go to Birmingham, Ala., to be looked at by Dr. James Andrews. ... Third baseman Evan Longoria and shortstop Jason Bartlett have been the best-hitting left-side-of-the-infield combo in baseball this season. Entering Friday night's game against the Red Sox, the pair had combined for a .350 batting average, .392 on-base average, .624 slugging average, 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

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On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WDAE 620

Up next
• Sunday: Rays (Matt Garza, 3-2, 3.51) at Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 3-2, 6.75), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 1-3, 5.79) at Orioles (TBD), 7:05 p.m. ET

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.