Kazmir, Matsui slowing Angels' progress
Pitcher can't find his game and hitter continues his slide downward in another loss
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Some of what the Los Angeles Angels have gone through in a disappointing first five weeks can be chalked up to struggling young players. Brandon Wood hasn't gotten a handle on facing major league pitching. A few young relievers haven't fared well navigating this league.
But two of the biggest drags on the Angels' attempt to turn things around are a couple of veterans who have been through all sorts of highs, lows and in-betweens over long major league careers. Scott Kazmir has been a disappointment to the Angels from his first start of 2010 through Tuesday's 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, and Hideki Matsui is mired in a three-week-long slump that is disrupting any chemistry the Angels' offense starts to muster.
Kazmir was the Rays' franchise leader in wins, innings, strikeouts and starts when they traded him to the Angels in August. It's beginning to look as if they had a pretty good idea what they were doing.
For the 12th straight time, Kazmir failed to pitch beyond the sixth inning. He isn't throwing strikes and his stuff is nowhere near as electric as it has been in previous seasons. The combination is producing a pitcher who struggles to get the ball deep enough to give the Angels much of a fighting chance, and it's becoming a source of frustration to the Angels' coaches.
Kazmir needed 108 pitches to get through five innings in his first start against his former team and, afterward, manager Mike Scioscia said he'll consider skipping Kazmir in the rotation in the future if he can't iron out some of his command issues.
"We're still trying to unlock Kaz and get him to be the pitcher we know he can be. It's very frustrating at this time," Scioscia said. "He didn't pitch well tonight, he didn't have command, he threw far too many pitches to get through five innings. We'll keep working with him and hopefully, he'll take a step forward, but tonight was not what we're looking for."
Kazmir (2-3) said hitters are walking into the batter's box intent on taking pitches, because they know he isn't going to throw it in the strike zone. He said there was one moment where the strangeness of facing his former team was an issue -- when B.J. Upton was smiling out at him from the batter's box -- but generally it has been the same failures Kazmir has faced all season: shaky command and soggy stuff.
"It's really frustrating when you're not putting the numbers out there," Kazmir said. "You're not going deep into games, you're not giving your team a chance. Going five innings is just not acceptable."
Tuesday was one of those games that seem to come along every other game or so for this team, in which the Angels' bats appear to have been soaked in a barrel of water beforehand.
Matsui's bat hasn't scared anybody lately. Actually, it scared a whole section of fans after Niemann sawed it off at the handle and it went helicoptering into the crowd in the seventh inning. Nobody got hurt, including the pitcher once again. Matsui has six hits in his past 55 at-bats, giving him a .109 average with 11 strikeouts in his past 15 games. He did do a good job keeping the bat on the shoulder and taking four straight balls from reliever Randy Choate to force in a run in the eighth. Matsui's average has steadily shrunk from .310 to .228. The Japanese reporters who follow him around look as if they need to take a nap, they're so bored.
"He has been through rough times before. I'm pretty sure he knows how to handle it, but nobody wants go through rough spots, trust me, in life, in baseball, in basketball, it doesn't matter," Torii Hunter said. "I'm pretty sure he's pretty upset with it."
Getting on base has been a problem for the Angels. They made strides improving their plate discipline and on-base percentage last year, but things have slipped in 2010. The Angels ranked 11th in the league in on-base percentage (.312) entering Tuesday.
The Angels have gradually been cleaning up their struggling bullpen, one pitcher at a time. They sent Matt Palmer to Triple-A Salt Lake, then rescinded the option and put him on the disabled list because of a shoulder injury. They put Brian Stokes on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, ostensibly because of a tired shoulder but more so he could get his mechanics straightened out.
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Could veteran Scot Shields be next in line? Though he has shown some signs of improvement lately, the numbers don't add up for Shields. Of the 56 batters he has faced, nearly half (27) have reached base. On Shields' second pitch Tuesday, Evan Longoria hit a towering three-run home run to center field. Then, Shields walked Willy Aybar, his 12th walk in 10 1/3 innings.
Shields' case is more complicated than those of Palmer and Stokes, because he's a longtime Angels stalwart and a popular player in the organization. He also makes $5.35 million, but the Angels proved they're more concerned about performance than contract entanglements when they released Justin Speier last season.
Scene and heard
The Aybar brothers don't get to spend much time together between April and October. Willy plays for the Tampa Bay Rays. Erick is the Angels' shortstop. But when the Rays are in Anaheim, Willy stays at Erick's house. They've been eating Dominican food cooked by Erick's wife, Ncharri, and playing a lot of dominos. Willy has gotten to meet Erick's infant daughter, Nsaeri.
In November and December, the brothers play together on the Dominican winter-ball team Licey.
Quote of the day
"If he wants to get back to where he was a couple years ago, absolutely, he needs that pitch. If he doesn't have that pitch, he needs to go about redefining the way he gets hitters out. And I think, right now , it's more than just the slider." -- Scioscia on Kazmir's hesitant first step at rediscovering his long-lost strikeout pitch.
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Jered Weaver (4-1, 2.66 ERA) outpitched one of the game's elite pitchers, Felix Hernandez, Friday in Seattle. Now, he's matched up against another young talent, Tampa left-hander David Price (4-1, 1.91), who has been virtually unhittable lately.
Opponents are batting .187 against Price, the second-best mark in the American League. Since he took his first loss on April 20, he has gone 2-0 and given up two earned runs and 11 hits in 22 2/3 innings.
The Angels are 6-1 in Weaver's starts. Weaver had a no-hitter Friday until Ken Griffey Jr. singled with two outs in the seventh inning.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.