Scott Kazmir rocked for eight earned runs in five innings of 11-8 loss to Brewers
The Angels have tried to accentuate the positive with struggling left-hander Scott Kazmir this spring, characterizing one outing after another as "a step forward," even though the results seemed to indicate otherwise.
But there was no sugar-coating Thursday's start against the Milwaukee Brewers, as much as Kazmir tried. It was definitely a huge step backward for Kazmir, who was rocked for 10 runs, eight of them earned, and eight hits in five innings of the Angels' 11-8 exhibition loss.
Kazmir's first pitch of the game was smoked for a double to left by Carlos Gomez. Craig Counsell singled to center, advancing Gomez to third, and shortstop Erick Aybar made a spectacular diving catch of Ryan Braun's one-hop smash and flipped to second for a force out, Gomez scoring.
Kazmir drilled Casey McGehee with a fastball in the right kneecap, knocking McGehee out of the game and to a hospital for X-rays, which were negative. Some wondered whether the pitch was retribution for McGehee's hard slide into second base that injured Aybar last season, but that would require pin-point control, and that's not a Kazmir strength at the moment.
Yuniesky Betancourt drove a three-run homer to left before Kazmir got Erick Almonte to fly to center and struck out Jeremy Reed to end the inning. But the Brewers scored four more in the second, which began with a Wil Nieves single and a Gomez triple and included Aybar's fielding error. That led to a pair of unearned runs.
Kazmir blanked the Brewers on no hits in the the third and fourth, throwing several nice off-speed pitches, but he gave up two more runs in the fifth on an Almonte single, a Reed triple and a double-play grounder. The Brewers led, 10-2, when he departed.
Kazmir, entering the final year of a three-year, $28.5-million contract, tested the Angels' patience last season, when he went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA.
He has a 7.79 ERA in 17 1/3 innings this spring, with 11 walks and 10 strikeouts, and his fastball, which once sat in the 94-mph range, hovered in the 88-mph range Thursday.
If he continues to struggle, the Angels may have no choice but to move reliever Hisanori Takahashi into the rotation and release Kazmir, eating the remaining $14.5 million on Kazmir's contract -- a $12-million salary this season and $2.5 million to buy out a $13.5-million club option for 2012.
Such a move, though, would probably have to wait until left-handed reliever Scott Downs, out with a broken bone in his left big toe, is activated. Manager Mike Scioscia said Takahashi, the only left-hander in the bullpen, is too valuable in his relief role to be moved into the rotation, at least until Downs returns.
Listening to Kazmir, though, you'd hardly think there was a problem.
"I feel like I was throwing the ball well," he said. "The walks, I didn't particularly like, but I felt like I attacked the strike zone. A couple of things didn't go my way, and it snow-balled on me. My slider had some bite, my fastball had good tilt to it, and I threw some good changeups. I felt good, but that's baseball. You've got to have some luck on your side."
-- Mike DiGiovanna in Tempe, Ariz.
Photo: Angels starting pitcher Scott Kazmir delivers a pitch against the White Sox earlier this spring training. Credit: Jake Roth / US Presswire