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Angels' Scott Kazmir improves pitch velocity but continues to struggle with walks

Scott Kazmir has walked 11 batters in 11-plus spring innings, but in a 95-pitch, 41/3-inning outing Saturday against the Cleveland Indians, he improved his pitch speed over earlier spring starts, consistently reaching the high 80s.

March 19, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir routinely threw in the 87-89 mph range in a 95-pitch, 4 1/3 -inning outing Saturday against the Cleveland Indians.
Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir routinely threw in the 87-89 mph range in a 95-pitch,… (Jake Roth / US Presswire )

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Scott Kazmir doesn't want to continue the ratio of 11 walks in 11-plus innings, but the Angels' left-hander will keep the mechanics he displayed Saturday.

Kazmir — coming off a 9-15, 5.40-ERA season amid spring angst that he's been hovering around 85 mph on radar guns — showed more life on his fastball and expressed satisfaction with the movement of his change-up in a 95-pitch, 41/3 -inning outing in the Angels' 10-7 loss to the Cleveland Indians before a sellout crowd of 8,735 at Diablo Stadium.

"I felt good even if the numbers don't show it," Kazmir said after routinely throwing in the 87 mph to 89 mph range, according to radar-gun-carrying scouts behind the plate. One pitch reached 90.

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Kazmir said that he didn't need to know those numbers to understand recent attention to his arm slot and that "smoothing things out" has paid off. He struck out three in his fifth spring start with a pair of 1-2-3 innings.

"My change-up had so much movement I couldn't get it over," Kazmir said. "I've just got to get ahead [in the count] more and I'll take care of that. I'm coming along.... When they're swinging and missing like that and you see the ball jumping past them — I'm trying to work on that stuff. Not lighting up the guns."

The problem was his four walks, with three of those baserunners scoring. Kazmir previously walked seven batters over the course of his most recent two starts.

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Angels Manager Mike Scioscia noted that Kazmir was throwing "hotter" but added that the lefty should have thrown more strikes earlier in counts.

"Ninety-five pitches in 41/3 innings is a lot of work," Scioscia said. "I hope he'll be more pitch efficient, and he'll have to use his last two [spring] starts to fine tune it."

Before the game, Scioscia said he expected Kazmir's velocity to pick up after the pitcher drilled last week with pitching coach Mike Butcher.

Butcher "wanted to prove [to Kazmir] that he's got natural gas," and Kazmir hit 92 mph on the speed gun, Scioscia said. The Angels shifted Kazmir to a B game Monday to establish "better mechanics to throw better and control the velocity. He doesn't need to throw 93-95."

Saturday, then, eased some of the prior spring concern about a 27-year-old who averaged 11 victories a season between 2005 and 2009 with an ERA less than 3.50 in three of those campaigns.

"He still has upside," Scioscia said. "We're moving toward that."

Morales update

Angels slugger Kendrys Morales did some running on the team's minor-league fields Saturday morning but stopped short of trying the cuts and turns that will be the ultimate test of his recovery from last year's fractured lower leg and surgery.

Scioscia earlier this spring said he wanted Morales to start appearing in games by this weekend to be ready for the March 31 opener in Kansas City.

Saturday, Scioscia said, "At the point now, it probably will impact the beginning of the season."

The fallback plan

Scioscia cautions that although he's "very comfortable" with first baseman Mark Trumbo's five-homer, 13-RBI spring, it's "nothing that translates" to the challenge of the regular season.

Given that second baseman Howie Kendrick and backup catcher Bobby Wilson have made spring starts at first as Trumbo recovers from minor right groin soreness, the Villa Park product is strongly positioned to occupy first until Morales recovers.

The other element of Morales' absence is filling the hole in the batting order, and Scioscia said he's envisioning putting Bobby Abreu there. Batting third Friday, Abreu homered to left and right-center.

"I have no problem with that," Abreu said, smiling at Scioscia's plan before contributing an RBI single Saturday. "I've been in that spot for a long time in my career. I'm making good contact driving the ball, hitting it the other way.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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