- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In 2007, at the age of 28, Cliff Lee got shipped to the minor leagues by the Cleveland Indians to iron out his delivery. He had to climb the bush-league ladder all over again: He began at Single-A, worked his way up to Double-A and made eight starts at Triple-A.
A season later, Lee won 22 games and captured the American League Cy Young award. He has been one of baseball's most imposing pitchers ever since.
Is there a lesson in here somewhere for Scott Kazmir?
It was hard to avoid that question after watching Lee out-pitch Kazmir in the Seattle Mariners 8-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night. It continues to be a season in which one step forward results in a long backward slide for Kazmir, one of the Angels' highest-paid players. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Kazmir is close to ironing out his issues, but the results would seem to argue otherwise: After nine starts, Kazmir (3-5) has a 6.34 ERA and has allowed 79 base runners in 49 2/3 innings.
Last week in St. Louis, Kazmir retired 17 straight St. Louis Cardinals at one point. Friday night, even after the Angels somehow scored two runs off Lee in the first inning, Kazmir didn't know what to do with the lead: He blew it all and then some in a three-run Mariners rally after he'd gotten two outs in the third.
"There's nothing else to say, it's just frustrating," Kazmir said. "It feels like when I go out there, everything feels great, then the next thing you know I get two quick outs and, before I could blink, two runs are a cross, three runs are across."
If it's frustrating for Kazmir, imagine how owner Arte Moreno must feel. He owes Kazmir at least another $20 million for the next two seasons. For the investment so far, the Angels have gotten five regular-season wins and two sub-par playoff starts out of him. The Angels picked up Kazmir from the Tampa Bay Rays after the trade deadline last year and it's becoming more and more apparent why no other team bothered to claim him off waivers. He's only 26, but his arsenal of pitches is nothing like what it was a few years ago.
It's a different problem every start. For much of the season, Kazmir complained of his inability to throw his slider. Friday, he had that and a pretty decent changeup, too, but he couldn't get his fastball into good locations. He tried to jam right-handed hitters and instead left the ball dangling over the plate. Jose Lopez hit one of those over the left-field wall for a solo home run in the fourth.
If the Angels are considering a drastic move with Kazmir, Scioscia isn't letting on. Then again, he's usually pretty good at keeping his poker face.
"We're going to have to keep working at it. I'm certainly disappointed in his start tonight, especially coming off the way he pitched in St. Louis, but we'll keep going," Scioscia said. "He's pretty close. I don't think there are a lot of major things we're going to need to do with Kaz."
Lee (3-2) is the finished product. After his shaky first inning, the Angels looked overmatched the rest of the night. He struck out 10 batters in eight innings and has now walked three batters in 44 2/3 innings this season.
You could have predicted Friday's outcome by glancing at the pitching probables.
It's getting hard to watch the decline of Scot Shields.
The man who Sports Illustrated dubbed the "Setup Man of the Decade" has mostly been setting the table for opposing teams. Shields had another rough outing Friday, giving up three hits, a walk and hitting Ichiro Suzuki in the foot with a curveball.
The Mariners would have scored more than two runs off Shields, but their third base coach Mike Brumley inexplicably held Suzuki from scoring from second on Franklin Gutierrez's single to right. Chone Figgins missed the stop sign and raced for third, allowing Mike Napoli to tag out Suzuki.
Opponents have a .460 on-base percentage against Shields this season.
Scioscia was asked afterward if Shields' roster spot was in jeopardy. If the team releases Shields, it would have to pay him the remainder of his $5.35 million salary.
"Nobody is under a microscope here, but especially in the pitching -- we're focusing a lot on our bullpen -- we need some of those guys to get into their game to give us a little bit of stability," Scioscia said.
Scene and heard
Most players consider interviews to be a bit of a drag, but few of the Angels seemed to mind when Japanese actress and one-named model Sheila asked them to speak on camera for a Japanese TV show. Sheila, who was born in Cuba, spoke with several of the Angels' Latino players in Spanish.
Quote of the day
"That was very frustrating. I give up a bloop single to Ichiro. That's how he gets his hits, so you can't be too mad at that. The walk to Figgins, that's what really hurt." -- Kazmir on giving up three runs after getting two outs in the third inning. Figgins is batting .196.
The Mariners, who had two off days last week, changed their pitching rotation to keep Felix Hernandez closer to his normal four days' rest. Hernandez (2-4, 3.80 ERA), the Cy Young runner-up last year, will pitch Saturday opposite the Angels' No. 1 starter, Jered Weaver (4-2, 3.36). Ian Snell (0-3, 4.32) now will pitch Sunday for Seattle.
Weaver and Hernandez hooked up May 7 in Seattle and it wasn't much of a pitcher's duel. Weaver took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and Hernandez couldn't get out of the fourth in an 8-0 Angels win. Weaver hasn't won since then. The Angels have lost in four of his last five starts.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.