Following two solid starts against Florida and Texas, Kazmir allowed seven runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings to Toronto on Wednesday, getting a no-decision in Tampa Bay's 10-9 win. It was his third start since returning from the disabled list, and the box score would indicate it was a big step back from the previous couple outings.
But Rays manager Joe Maddon said the stat line could be deceptive. He, like Kazmir, thought the 25-year-old left-hander threw the ball much better than his numbers showed.
"In a lot of ways, I kind of liked it," Maddon said. "I know the run total was high, and obviously nobody likes to go through that, but I actually thought he was better."
It all adds to an increasingly confusing and convoluted 2009 season for Kazmir, with peaks and valleys that seem to switch up with alarming frequency. He struggled horribly through his first nine starts of the season before succumbing to a right quad injury that landed the two-time All-Star on the disabled list for 33 games. Following strong rehab performances, refined mechanics and boosted confidence, his first two starts back were much more positive: 10 innings pitched, nine hits, five runs, two walks and 11 strikeouts.
But Wednesday night, against a tough-hitting Blue Jays lineup, it did not go well. The outing left Kazmir with few answers. The lefty said he felt he pitched as well as he had all season.
"I'm confident in what I'm putting out there," Kazmir said. "It's very, very frustrating. But I'm feeling like I'm going to start catching some breaks."
"Honestly, I thought he threw the ball well," Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said. "His slider was great, his changeup was good, the fastball was good."
Navarro said he knows Toronto has a potent lineup and wasn't surprised by how many hits it accumulated. But the backstop added he doesn't think that means Kazmir pitched poorly.
"That's part of the game," Navarro said. "The biggest thing for him is to keep on working and to keep on battling. I think he'll be fine."
Kazmir won't make his next start until after the All-Star break, which may give him an opportunity to regroup and forget about the nightmarish first half. Simply judging by the way he threw the ball, there are positive signs that he is a different pitcher now compared to earlier in the year.
His velocity is much improved, and Maddon has referred to better depth in his slider and a cleaner changeup. The mental issues that plagued him earlier seem to have considerably improved.
But the results still have not come, posing a puzzling and exasperating conflict for Kazmir as he continues to work through everything.
"I'm due," Kazmir said. "I felt great out there."