Angels starter Scott Kazmir's struggles from last year have continued… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Scott Kazmir is either one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball, as he seems to believe, or in denial about his continuing struggles.
The Angels left-hander was rocked for eight earned runs and eight hits in five innings of Thursday's 11-8 exhibition loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, his once-vaunted fastball, which hit 94 mph a few years ago, sitting in the very pedestrian 88-mph range.
Carlos Gomez smoked Kazmir's first pitch of the game for a double, Craig Counsell singled, and Yuniesky Betancourt hit a three-run home run. Gomez's run-scoring triple highlighted a four-run second, and Jeremy Reed had a run-scoring triple in a two-run fifth.
Kazmir, who tested the Angels' patience with his 9-15 record and 5.94 earned-run average last season, has a 7.79 ERA in 171/3 spring innings, with 23 hits allowed, 12 walks and 10 strikeouts. Yet, he insists his arm feels "so much better" than it did last season.
"I feel like I was throwing the ball well," Kazmir said. "The [three] walks, I didn't particularly like, but I thought I was attacking the strike zone. A couple of things didn't go my way, and it kind of snowballed on me."
Gomez's second-inning triple was a grounder over the third-base bag, but most of the Brewers' hits were firmly struck. Kazmir found some rhythm in the third and fourth, when he struck out two and allowed no hits, but he couldn't carry that into the fifth.
"My slider felt great, and my fastball had a downward tilt to it," Kazmir said. "But they put some good swings on it. That's baseball. No matter how you feel, you've got to have some luck on your side."
If this continues, the Angels may have no choice but to move reliever Hisanori Takahashi to the rotation and release Kazmir, eating the $14.5 million left on his contract — a $12-million salary and $2.5 million to buy out a $13.5-million option for 2012.
Such a move would have to wait until left-handed reliever Scott Downs (broken bone in left big toe) is activated. Manager Mike Scioscia said Takahashi, the only left-hander in the bullpen, is too valuable as a reliever right now.
The Angels don't have many starting pitching options at triple A, so they'll enter the season with Kazmir.
"Regardless of what options we have or don't have, our goal is to get Kaz back pitching as effectively as he did at the end of 2009," Scioscia said. "That's our focus now. We'll see where this leads."
Kazmir spent three months this winter in Arizona, going through a rigorous training regimen he calls "boot camp," and in February, he said he was in the best shape of his life. But that hasn't translated into results.
"Of course, it's discouraging," Kazmir said. "But I've got to keep going out there, keep working."
But how confident can the Angels be that Kazmir will give them a chance to win every fifth night and pitch deep enough into games that the bullpen isn't overextended?
"His line score today was ugly, but you're not going to make a statistical analysis in the spring," Scioscia said. "We're going to have to see how things play in the season, if his adjustments play better in a different environment.
"The first couple innings today, they were on him. In between, he pitched well. The consistency obviously isn't there, and that's what is frustrating."