Saturday night started out like many Scott Kazmir starts over the last two seasons. On a night when the Rays needed a win in the worst way, Kazmir walked two of the first three batters and that Déjà-Vu feeling was creeping in. Luckily, by the end of the night there was a Déjà-Vu feeling, but in a good way.
After his two-walk, 21 pitch first inning, Kaz went to work on the Jays lineup and looked a lot like the Kid K of yesteryear. He would allow three runs on five hits while walking three and striking out a season high seven. Two of the runs came on one swing off the bat by Aaron Hill in the third inning. From there Kazmir would register a nine pitch fourth inning as well as a fantastic seven pitch fifth. He threw 18 pitches in the sixth; however, it was arguably the best 18 pitches I've seen from him this season. Kaz used all three of his pitches: fastball, slider and changeup in that inning and K's the Jays side. He ran into a bit of trouble in the seventh, but was bailed out by Russ Springer.
Overall Kazmir threw 103 pitches with 62 of them going for strikes. He relied on his fastball (57.2% four seam, 12.6% two seam), however, he did mix in his change ups and slider at the right times and got 11 swinging strikes on the evening. He maintained 89-91 on the heaters; nonetheless he nearly touched 94 a few times. As mentioned above, Kaz also mixed in a good number of change ups (15%) and made some really good ones in that sixth inning. He did throw 14% sliders, however, that number is down from what we've seen lately. With Dioner Navarro behind the plate, Kaz seemed to have a good rhythm and really had the fastball working in the middle innings.
Once Kazmir ran into trouble in the seventh inning, Joe Maddon quickly went to newly acquired Russ Springer, who ended the Jays threat thanks to a fantastic line drive snag by Ben Zobrist as well as inducing an inning ending ground ball to third. Springer is now wearing #36 which was previous worn by Randy Choate. Choate followed Springer in the eighth wearing Springer's old #37 and proved why he should remain as the Rays top loogy option. He quickly got two ground ball outs before giving up a single to right handed batting Vernon Wells. Dan "Big City" Wheeler made a quick cameo and struck out Randy Ruiz on three pitches: slider, curve, curve in the dirt. Wheeler is also sporting a full beard now as I'm sure he is trying to establish that he and Springer are in fact two different people.
Offensively, the Rays top of the order did work. The Rays 1-4 hitters went a combined 7-16 with five RBI. All of the Rays players who registered a plate appearance reached base and the team had five walks to match their five strikeouts. The lineup also went 7-13 wit runners in scoring position.
Willy Aybar got a single in the seventh inning off a ball that only Vladimir Guerrero hits. Ben Zobrist added two more hits to his season total and made a fantastic play as I said in the seventh inning. I know it's a SSS, but his UZR at second base is a ridiculous 11.2 in over 520 innings of work.
The hunt for October maybe on life support, but the Rays stopped the bleeding temporarily and by night's end will have gained a game on either Boston or Texas. As we've said many times, tonight's game doesn't mean much if you don't follow up tomorrow so let's all take a deep breath and invoke our inner cranes for Matt Garza on Sunday afternoon.