ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The longer you listen to Scott Kazmir, the more the message seems to change. His eyes seem a little twitchy. You get the sense he doesn't know what to believe any more. One minute, he's seeing signs of turning a corner. The next, he has no idea who he is as a pitcher.
The Los Angeles Angels have a major task on their hands in the second half of the season. They're trying to rebuild the confidence of their highest-paid starting pitcher, a man who once dominated the best lineups in baseball and now routinely gets hit around by the worst.
The Angels think the potential is still there, even as the results stay ugly, culminating in last weekend's embarrassment. Saturday in Oakland, Kazmir made the worst start in the 49-year history of the Angels' franchise: 13 earned runs in five innings.
You couldn't hide it at that point. His confidence was in a shambles. Kazmir returned from the All-Star break and said he gained a measure of self-esteem from Wednesday's bullpen session, in which he threw nothing but fastballs. Then, he kept answering questions and you got a hint at the depths of this crisis in confidence.
"Looking at video, I can't even tell if that's me out there," Kazmir said. "It's getting a little out of control."
Clearly, his arsenal isn't as formidable as it once was, but why? Kazmir's fastball once routinely touched the mid-90s. According to Fangraphs.com, he's averaging 90 mph with it this year. He once had a wicked slider. Now, it's a "show" pitch. He forces himself to snap one off every now and again. Sometimes, it's mediocre. Sometimes, it's hardly there.
The Angels are sure he's thinking too much. They're sure he's capable of winning games with a fastball that most left-handers would covet and a "plus" changeup. He does, after all, have a history of winning, often in hostile environments like Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. He was an ace at 22, so why should he be a bust at 26?
That's why Angels manager Mike Scioscia is sticking with Kazmir in his rotation. Well, that, plus the lack of options at Triple-A.
They want him to stop worrying about his mechanics, step on the mound and make it about competition. That's why pitching coach Mike Butcher told him to throw nothing but fastballs -- and throw them as hard as he could -- in his latest bullpen session.
All season, Kazmir has been tinkering with this, tweaking that. All the while, his ERA ballooned to 6.92, the worst in the majors for pitchers with at least 90 innings.
"He's been an All-Star before. He's been on top of his game," Butcher said. "He can get back up there. We're not going to look six years ago or what he was four years ago. We're looking at right now, where he is."
It's a tricky chore, though, instilling confidence at the major league level. The hitters are too good. Butcher and Scioscia know Kazmir is going to regain a semblance of it by enjoying success. As Scioscia said Thursday, it's kind of a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum. They need him to pitch with confidence to succeed. He needs to succeed to have confidence.
"He's just trying to get something positive moving," Scioscia said.
Kazmir said the three-day All-Star break helped him push a mental "reset" button. Kazmir could be an important part of the Angels' rotation for the next two seasons. Or, he could be a colossal waste of money and talent. The Angels traded three young players to acquire him from the Tampa Bay Rays in August. They're on the hook to pay him at least another $19.5 million through the end of next season.
Here's how he summed up his first half: "It seemed like every single day, it was something different I was trying to work on, trying to get a quick fix. Sometimes, it starts getting overwhelming. You have so many things you work on that you're kind of lost."
Kazmir attributes his drop in velocity to overthinking. Watching video, he sees a pitcher whose arm is slowed by a mind that is analyzing too many things all at once.
"It's just a matter of letting my talent take over and not worrying about all the stuff I think about in between pitches," Kazmir said.
Thursday night the Angels got a respite from their depth worries in an 8-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners. The Nos. 6 through 9 hitters collected eight hits and scored five runs. McAnulty, who started at first base, had one hit in 18 at-bats coming in. He went 2-for-4. Juan Rivera, who hit .240 in the first half, had two hits. Jeff Mathis, who was batting .236, had three.
"For a long time, we had some soft spots in our lineup," Scioscia said. "It becomes a matter of only being able to pressure them every third inning. That's just not going to get it done. We need that lineup to get deep. Tonight, everybody chipped in."
Joel Pineiro (10-6) has been pitching well, but he's also been in the right place at the right time. The Angels have been scoring bushels of runs on the nights he pitches. Not coincidentally, he has won his past seven decisions.
In Pineiro's past eight starts, the Angels are averaging 8.0 runs per game. In his first 11 starts, the Angels averaged 4.63 runs and he went 3-6.
"I don't think I've changed that much from earlier, just having a little more luck, really," Pineiro said.
Quote of the day
"Hopefully, that's a good start for us in the second half and we keep rolling." -- Pineiro.
After Jered Weaver got picked for the American League All-Star team as a replacement for Trevor Cahill, Felix Hernandez moved to the front of the snubbed list. Those two staff aces match up for the third time this year Friday night at Angel Stadium. Weaver has won both of the previous head-to-head matchups.
Hernandez (7-5, 2.88 ERA) pitched his fourth complete game of the season Saturday against the New York Yankees. He has a 2.21 ERA with 92 strikeouts and just 22 walks over his past 12 starts.
Weaver (8-5) had two of his worst starts right before the break, giving up nine earned runs and seeing his ERA climb from 2.82 to 3.20.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.