04/23/08 3:57 PM ET
Kazmir fine after bizarre rehab stint
Left-hander throws five frames for Vero Beach on Wednesday
By Bill Whitehead / Special to MLB.com
The left-hander gave up four earned runs and worked into the fifth inning on Wednesday in the Class A Vero Beach Devil Rays' 4-3 loss to the Palm Beach Cardinals in a game that started in the morning and ended with Kazmir going back and forth from the mound to the bullpen due to a pitch-count misunderstanding.
"It was frustrating," Kazmir said following his 64-pitch effort, his second start following a left elbow strain in late February. "I wanted to work on a lot of things and stretch myself out. I felt strong. [pitching coach Jim] Hickey and I were both on the same page, but it didn't happen."
The game featured a rare 10:30 morning start at Roger Dean Stadium, and was played before mostly school children, teachers and chaperones, due to a promotion Palm Beach had with area middle schools.
And the game had a bizarre feel to it from the moment Kazmir toed the rubber.
His first pitch, an 88-mile-per-hour fastball, was belted down the right-field line for a home run by Palm Beach's Tyler Henley, tying the game at 1.
Kazmir ran into more trouble on consecutive hits to open the second inning. After allowing a run to score and with two runners in scoring position, he escaped more damage by retiring Henley and Isa Garcia on offspeed pitches -- a slider to strike out Henley swinging and a changeup forcing Garcia to ground out to third.
After throwing just 20 pitches over the next two scoreless innings, the Texas native was told to head to the bullpen to finish his work, which led to more confusion.
"They wanted me finish up in the bullpen, and it didn't really make too much sense," said Kazmir. "[My start] was originally set for 70-75 pitches, and we certainly wanted me to go five [innings]. I got done after four innings and I had thrown 54.
"They said, 'Finish up in the bullpen. If you had 50 pitches, we'd let you go back out there.' So I've got to have a 20-pitch cushion to go out there for another inning? That's a lot of confidence."
With reliever Ryan Morse warming up in the bullpen, Kazmir stood nearby and waited while the staff communicated with Tampa Bay coaches. Eventually, he was allowed to go back to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning, though he said he tried to do too much in a few pitches.
"They said if I threw seven pitches, they were taking me out. I was just throwing fastballs down the middle, saying, 'Please, just get yourself out.' The only thing that was going through my head that last inning was, 'How can I get out of this inning in three pitches?'
"It's frustrating because I wanted to get back out there and throw all my pitches. I thought I set myself up to do that, but the way it ended was unnecessary."
He retired the first two batters on four pitches before a double by Garcia and a two-run, wind-aided homer to center by Steven Hill ended his afternoon -- just after noon.
"I didn't like the way that whole situation ended up. Hopefully, I'll get stretched out a little more. Hopefully, this doesn't tie in to my next start," he said.
And will Kazmir be contacting the Rays about future 10:30 a.m. starts at Tropicana Field?
"Never," he said, light-heartedly. "Never again. This [start time] is not made for baseball. We're not in Little League anymore. This is not a Little League tournament, where if you play at seven and win, you come back and play at 10:30. That's what it feels like."
Kazmir said part of his problem may have been his control, which was spot on. Of his 64 pitches, 50 went for strikes, and Palm Beach batters weren't taking many of them.
"Maybe I threw too many strikes," he said. "They had some real free-swingers. I don't even know how that last ball got out. It just kept carrying."
On Friday night in Vero Beach in his first Minor League start, the 24-year-old southpaw had just one complaint: Getting accustomed to the smaller Minor League ball.
Kazmir is now done with the Florida State League. He will trek north to Triple-A Durham for his final start, a Monday night home game against Richmond, leaving him to ponder another question.
"Will I use a Major League or Minor League ball up there? I don't even know," he wondered, smiling after a long, bewildering Wednesday.
Bill Whitehead is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.