ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Scott Kazmir is an All-Star who's beginning to pitch like one again.
Tampa Bay's ace won for the just the second time in his last eight starts, allowing a season-low two hits in seven innings of the Rays' 4-0 victory over the struggling Oakland Athletics on Monday night."It feels great. I feel like it's long overdue," Kazmir (8-5) said after his first start since the All-Star break. "This is certainly something to build on, but it's just huge that we set the tone for the series with this win."After going 6-0 with an 0.88 ERA from May 10 to June 6, Kazmir was 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA over seven starts leading up to last Tuesday's All-Star Game, which he won by pitching a scoreless 15th inning on one day's rest."The Kaz that we saw tonight is the Kaz that everybody used to see," All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro said. "I know he's going to keep doing it."Rookie Evan Longoria homered for the third consecutive game and drove in two runs, helping the AL East leaders win for the third time in four days following a season-worst seven-game losing streak that briefly dropped them out of first place.The A's have lost six in a row for their longest skid since they dropped nine straight from July 6-17, 2007. They've been held to nine runs during the slide.The Rays gave Kazmir an extra day to get ready for his first start since July 13, and the left-hander responded with his longest outing since he went 8 innings to beat Texas on June 6."This is really going to boost his confidence going into the next start," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Oakland is the type of team that will take pitches and try to push up the pitch count, and they're willing to accept their walks."The A's were limited to Ryan Sweeney's one-out single in the first and Jack Cust's two-out single in the fourth, as well as four leadoff walks over Kazmir's seven innings. The Rays ace struck out nine before relievers Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell finished the combined two-hitter before a crowd of just 12,428.It was Tampa Bay's club-record ninth shutout of the season. The weak-hitting A's have been blanked nine times, second-most in the AL."We went to New York, we saw some pretty well-pitched games," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "And tonight, Kazmir had a very solid performance."Longoria had two hits off Dana Eveland (7-7), an RBI single in the third and his 19th homer in the fifth. Willy Aybar also hit a solo homer off the Oakland starter, who allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings.Kazmir threw 104 pitches in six innings during his last start before the All-Star break, and the Rays had hoped he wouldn't be called on to pitch for the AL in New York.The 24-year-old lefty said he felt fine after throwing 14 pitches and becoming the seventh-youngest pitcher to win an All-Star Game, however the team didn't want to take any unnecessary chances and pushed his first post-break start back an additional day."Kazmir has great numbers, and you see why," Eveland said. "He's got electric stuff. He throws strikes."Eveland pitched a three-hitter for his first career complete game against Tampa Bay on May 21, but wasn't nearly as effective this time. The left-hander gave up Longoria's RBI single, Aybar's homer and Akinori Iwamura's run-scoring single in the fourth to fall behind 3-0.Longoria's homer made it 4-0. And the way Oakland has been hitting lately, that was a lot to expect the A's to overcome.Falling to 0-4 on a six-game road trip that began with a weekend sweep at Yankee Stadium, the A's have now scored one or fewer runs in four of their last six games and 28 times overall -- four more than their total for all of last season."A rough time right now. We haven't been able to do much," Cust said. "We've gone through it before. Hopefully, we can get out of it."
Longoria also homered in three straight games from June 25-27. ... Kazmir is 5-1 with a 1.68 ERA at home, but 3-4 with a 4.10 ERA on the road. ... The Rays are 11-for-85 with runners in scoring position over their last 11 games, including 3-for-11 Monday night. ... A's DH Frank Thomas, on the 15-day disabled list since May 29 because of right quadriceps tendinitis, took batting practice and has been cleared to start a running program on Friday. ... Rays SS Jason Bartlett, sidelined since July 3 with a right knee sprain, ran the bases during pregame drills, and may be activated during Tampa Bay's upcoming road trip to Kansas City and Toronto.