Wednesday, September 2, 2009

By Chuck Richter - Executive Editor

The Angels acquired Scott Kazmir before the month of September hoping he'd solidify the rotation in the final month of the season, a month that is crucial for the Angels to play well and fend off the charging Texas Rangers, who are just 3.5 games back in the AL West standings.

Kazmir brings a career 3.47 career ERA in the month of September — best of any month in his career.

He is happy to be back on track after a dismal first half, posting a 7.11 ERA in 12 starts, with opposing teams hitting .302 off of him. Kazmir said on Tuesday the remedy to his troubles was mostly physical.

"I didn't have too much rhythm and just before the All-Star break, during the All-Star break, I just tried to get that muscle memory back, doing drills, just to get a good rhythm." he said. "I felt like I had a good rhythm, good timing toward the plate, just going straight to the plate instead of falling off and short-arming it. I felt like once I had that I was getting a lot of extension, so I had just a little bit more life on my fastball and I was able to locate."

Life and location, indeed. Kazmir's Angels' debut was the type of start the Angels were looking for from the Tampa Bay Rays former ace. Kazmir shut out the Mariners through six innings, fanning 8 batters, while giving up just two hits before Bill Hall hit a double to the left-center field gap to drive in Mike Sweeney, sending Kazmir to the showers after going 6.1 innings and giving up just one earned run. Unfortunately, the Angels were facing the Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, so Kazmir left without a run on the board, losing his first contest as an Angel.

Kazmir's velocity is back, too, reaching 94-95 mph several times on the radar gun. It didn't start off so peachy for the lefty, as he loaded the bases in the first inning with no outs, but was able to strike out Sweeney, Adrian Beltre and Hall to get out of the inning unscathed.

Since the All-Star break (Including Wednesday's debut gem), Kazmir is 4-3 with a 4.07 ERA and six of his last seven starts have been quality starts. Kazmir's previous start, against Toronto, may have been his best of the season, going six innings while giving up just one run and striking out 10 Blue Jays. That makes 18 strikeouts in Kazmir's last 12.1 innings. The strikeouts are a good indication Kaz is back on track. In 2007, he led the American League in strikeouts with 239, a year after he worked with now Angels' pitching coach Mike Butcher.

"We had fun in 2006 working together," he said. "I learned a lot from Butch, did a lot of bullpen sessions and that carried over to 2007. I just think he and I, our personality type, worked well together. That just translated well into my routine and game."

The Angels feel confident with Kazmir on the mound versus some of the toughest opponents with high-octane offenses.

Against the Texas Rangers, Kazmir is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in 2009.
Against the New York Yankees, Kazmir is 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in 2009.
Against the Boston Red Sox, Kazmir is 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 2009.

Kazmir has stymied the Angels' postseason nemesis, the Red Sox, often over the years. In fact, his best career start to date was when he defeated Josh Beckett and Boston, 3-0, July 3, 2006, at Tropicana Field; his first career complete game shutout. Kazmir allowed just two hits and struck out 10. He retired 15 of 17 batters at one point, throwing a 120 total pitches, 84 for strikes.

While Kazmir didn't get the win in his Los Angeles Angels debut, Halo fans have to like the Angels chances down the stretch and in postseason play whenever Kazmir takes the hill, no matter who the opponent is.

Below is the entire interview Chuck Richter conducted with Scott Kazmir on September 1, 2009.

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