The hot topic in Scott Kazmir land this week has been first inning struggles. Coming into today's game he had given up nine first inning runs. Opponents were hitting .304/.515/.478/.993 against him and he had 10 walks to just seven strikeouts. Struggling was a nice way to say Kazmir has sucked in the first inning this year. Today he wasn't perfect in the first, but improved.
Pitching with a 2-0 lead, thanks to Evan Longoria's 11th home run of the year, Kazmir started out Jacoby Ellsbury with a strike. Not a big deal for most pitchers, but after the last two first innings Kazmir has had, it was a big deal. Kaz would retire Ellsbury on three pitches (all fastballs) and the first batter of the game was done; so far so good. Dustin Pedroia would walk on five pitches, but given the history he has of hitting against Scott, you almost take the walk there. David Ortiz would single on a check swing to left field. In one of the most bizarre plays I've ever seen, Pedroia and Ortiz would advance to second and third on a Carl Crawford throwing error. Pedroia fell down between second and third, and had Crawford thrown to third base he would've been easily out. Instead, CC lobbed the ball somewhere between second base and right field, advancing both.
Here is where Kazmir would normally be good for a few runs, a few walks and a few base hits. However, to his credit he "hunked" up as Tim McCarver said, and struck out Jason Bay on a slider. He would end the inning on a groundball out to third base; 1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 22 pitches, 12 strikes. Again, not perfect, but improved.
The first inning was really a microcosm of his entire day. Kaz would be in trouble for most of the game, however he would just bend not break. His worst inning was the fifth inning, which would also be his last inning. Kaz would give up two earned runs on three hits, a walk and an error in the frame. He would throw 35 pitches in the inning and cost himself possibly going another inning or two. At the end of the day it was your typical Kazmir line: 5 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K's, 100 pitches.
As has been par for the course, Kazmir's velocity was around 89 mph and he maxed out at 92. What was different for Kazmir was the pitch selection. After averaging around 15% changeups per outing, he only threw six of them out of 100 pitches. Instead, he lived off his fastball 58% and used his slider (34%) more than I can remember in recent memory.
I'm always the first to say there is no such thing as an ugly win, but with Scott Kazmir I'm starting to believe a "meh win" is possible. The first inning problems are still there as are the pitch count problems. Whether it's his mechanics, crowd size, or whatever, Scott Kazmir just continues to toe the rubber of mediocrity.