As much as I was thrilled with the trade of Scott Kazmir last fall, it was still strange to see him wearing another team's uniform, pitching against the Rays. As weird as it was, he was still the enemy tonight, and the treated him as such. Even though the offense has been in a mini-slump the past few games of this road trip I was supremely confident they wouldn't struggle against Kazmir. He was his usual self, throwing 108 pitches through five innings, walking three while striking out just two. That is something Rays fans became all too familiar with over the latter half of his tenure with the team. As newly elected Prime Minister of England, Dave Cameron, noted about Kazmir on Twitter during the 4th inning "He's perma-broken. He's never going to be good again." It's getting harder and harder to refute a claim like that.
Kazmir's pitching counterpart, Jeff Niemann, fared much better in his outing. The Big Nyquil went 7.1 IP, allowing six hits, two earned runs, and two walks while striking out four. He didn't even allow a man to reach third base in his time on the mound. The two earned runs are not necessarily all his fault, as Lance Cormier and Randy Choate failed to retire the three batters they faced. A big factor in Niemann's success on the evening was his ever improving curveball. While his fastball still has the highest Pitch Type Value of any of his offerings at 4.6 according to FanGraphs, the curveball is not far behind at 3.4. On the night, Niemann threw 24 curveballs and got a strike on 18 of them. That's 75%. Granted, only two were swining strikes, but he keep hitters off balance enough with his fastball that the curve came as a surprise most of the time, resulting in a lot of called strikes. While Niemann's K/9 isn't where you'd like to see it - just 5.94 coming into the game - he's been a very reliable 4th starter for the team this year. Some regression should be expected, seeing as how his ERA coming into the game was 2.23 while his xFIPwas 4.60, but I'm more than satisfied with his performance thus far.
The biggest situation of the game came in the 8th inning. As I mentioned above, Cormier and Choate failed to record any outs in their appearances, allowing two runs to score and the bases to be loaded. Joe Maddon called upon Grant Balfour, the man who got saddled with the loss last night, to put out any potential fire. Balfour obliged by striking out Howie Kendrick and getting Michael Ryan to ground out to short stop. Had the Angels got an extra base hit, or even a couple of singles, in that situation the outcome of the game may have been very different.
It was nice to see the offense come alive again as well. Every member of the lineup reached base in some fashion, with Crawford picking up three hits and two steals and Longoria crushing a three run homer to deep center that really broke the game open. Some notes on the offense:
-It was funny that Sean Rodriguez picked up the Rays first hit of the night, seeing as how it was off the man he was traded for, Scott Kazmir.
-The top of the order was really strong. I mentioned Crawford and Longoria already, but Bartlett was 1-3 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored, and Zobrist was 1-3 with a walk, double and two runs scored.
-I'm guessing B.J. Upton was pretty tired (insert your 'lazy' joke here) after flying cross country for the second time in 24 hours. So his at bats tonight were excusable. However, the running catch he made early in the game to save a run was a thing of beauty.
-I know the team scored a run on the play, but I still don't like Zobrist squeeze bunting in the third inning.