Scott Kazmir regaining confidence
Angels lefty is quietly turning around a rough season but could use some run support
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Written on the white dry erase board to the right of Scott Kazmir's locker is the "Japanese Word of the Day." The board, which is to the left of Hideki Matsui's locker, is updated daily by Matsui's interpreter, Roger Kahlon, and his word Friday couldn't have been more appropriate for Kazmir.
"Jishin -- Confidence"
It is safe to say Kazmir has lacked jishin this season. In fact, his jishin was so low before his first start since coming off the disabled list last Saturday, a 10-1 Angels win against the Detroit Tigers that ended a four-game losing streak, there were many who questioned if he'd ever get it back.
Despite being unable to grab his second win of the second half of the season -- to be fair, Sandy Koufax would have a hard time posting consecutive wins with the Angels' dreadful run support -- it's at least apparent that Kazmir's jishin is back.
Kazmir pitched six strong innings for the Angels, giving up four hits and two runs, but the Angels were unable to do anything offensively during a 3-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.
There aren't many silver linings to what has been a tough season for the Angels, but Kazmir (at least momentarily) putting the brakes on his free fall from grace is something the team may be able to build on if it can ever score some runs.
"I feel good. I see location and see a spot and I'm very confident I can hit that location now," said Kazmir, who is 8-10 with a 6.36 ERA this season. "My confidence is there now for sure."
Kazmir's sudden turnaround has been almost as surprising as his downfall. Before his last start, in which he gave up only three hits and one unearned run, Kazmir, who has a 1.36 ERA in his past two starts, had lost four straight with a 13.73 ERA in those outings. Before going on the disabled list because of shoulder fatigue, he gave up a franchise-worst 13 runs against the Oakland A's.
"I learned quite a bit as I was struggling," Kazmir said. "When you don't have everything working you have to go out there and battle every single day and it definitely weighs on you, but you learn in the process. You learn how to pitch without having your best stuff."
The Angels' plunge from playoff contention can almost be traced to Kazmir's loss at Oakland and his move to the disabled list, as the team lost 13 of 21 games during his stint on the DL. Conversely, it almost looked as if their unexpected resurgence was going to be traced back his return, as they won five of their past six games but Friday's loss put the Angels 8½ games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West (the largest deficit of any second-place club in the league) and their prospects of making up that ground look almost as remote as their chances of lighting up a scoreboard any time soon.
"There's not much you can do to ignite it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We just didn't get anything going. It's a poor offensive night for us. There's nothing you can say about it."
While speedy prospect Peter Bourjos, who has quickly become a fan favorite since being called up to take Torii Hunter's spot in center field, is probably the most exciting player on the team, his 40-yard dash time isn't helping the Angels much in the lineup. Bourjos is batting .172 (5-for-29) since being recalled on Aug. 3 and his quickness can't always make up for his inexperience in center field.
Adam Lind tripled on a fly ball in the second inning after Bourjos was unable to hold on to the ball as he jumped against the right-center-field wall with Hunter a few feet away from him. It wasn't the easiest play, but it's one Hunter has made hundreds of times during his 14-year career. Lind would eventually score on an Edwin Encarnacion single to left field.
Bourjos later misjudged a line drive by Fred Lewis, which turned into a double and scored Encarnacion to give the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning that would be too large a deficit for the Angels' quiet bats to overcome.
To his credit, Bourjos also made the only highlight-reel plays of the night, which included a diving catch on an Aaron Hill sacrifice fly in the fourth inning and perhaps the play of his young career, a sprawled-out, left-handed catch on a Jose Bautista line drive to center field in the ninth inning. "My mouth was wide open when he made that catch," Hunter said. "I was like, 'This is what young Torii used to look like.'"
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The baby-faced Bourjos will be the first to tell you he is just beginning to learn what it takes to play in the majors. In fact, he's just learning what it's like to be paid like a major leaguer. Before the game, as he sat by his locker -- an oversized, unopened suitcase still taking up most of his space -- he was handed his first pay check. With a big grin on his face, he handed it to Hunter, who has taken Bourjos under his wing since he was called up.
"Is this your first one?" Hunter asked as he tore the edges to reveal the numbers inside. "Please keep this."
As Hunter looked at the check he smiled and shook his head as he handed it back to Bourjos. "Things have changed," he said. "That's not even a full two weeks and that's way more than I got."
While Bourjos, who picks Hunter's brain constantly before games, smiled as he looked at his check, Hunter gave him another piece of advice as he walked away.
"If you work hard," Hunter said, "you're going to be right where I am someday ... in right field."
The laughter that ensued after Hunter's line was a distant memory after the game as Kazmir quietly sat in front of his locker, wondering what more he could have done to win the game.
"It's going to make me a better pitcher in the long run that's for sure," he said. "When everything is going fine that's the easy part. It's when you have to find yourself when you don't have all your pitches, that's when you have to battle. That's the difference between good pitchers and great pitchers."
That Kazmir can even be called good or great now after the way he started the season is at least a step in the right direction for him and the team. Now if he can just transfer his newfound jishin to the Angels' feeble lineup.
Quote of the day
"We talked about the recipes that we exchanged a couple weeks ago and how we can improve them ... a little more cumin." -- Scioscia on what he talked to demoted infielder Brandon Wood about in his office before the game Friday.
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Ervin Santana (11-8, 4.12 ERA) will face Toronto lefty Brett Cecil (9-5, 3.62) in the second game of a three-game home series against the Blue Jays. Hideki Matsui, who owns a career .309 batting average (133-for-430) against the Blue Jays, will likely play this weekend after sitting out Friday.
Scioscia says he believes the left-handed Matsui, who is hitting .135 (5-for-37, with all five hits being singles) with no home runs and two RBIs in his past 11 games, will benefit from facing Toronto's left-handed pitchers.
"One thing you got with a left-handed hitter is when you're struggling sometimes it's good to face a left-handed pitcher," he said. "It really gets you simple and lets you track the ball a little longer and at times it gets guys back in sync."
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.