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10/02/08 9:14 PM ET

Kazmir can seize moment in Game 2

Maddon confident in lefty's talent as consistency issues linger

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon believes "that moment" is about to arrive for Scott Kazmir. When he says that, Maddon is relaying his faith that the young pitcher is on the verge of finding the consistency he's lacked all season.

There's no better time for Kazmir to live up to Maddon's expectations than now. On Friday, Kazmir will take the mound for Tampa Bay in a critical Game 2 of its American League Division Series, with a chance to give the Rays a 2-0 edge over the White Sox before the series moves to Chicago.

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"He's extremely talented," Maddon said Thursday. "He's one of the best young pitchers in both leagues. We've just got to let him keep going out there, and at some point he's going to arrive at that moment where it's just going to happen.

"He's just going to feel it. I know it's in the near future -- so I really have a lot of confidence in the start tomorrow."

Kazmir, who already owns a host of Tampa Bay's all-time pitching records at just 24 years old, could've easily received the honor of being the Rays' starter in the opener against Chicago. Instead, Maddon gave James Shields the nod for Game 1, considering he's emerged as Tampa Bay's most consistent hurler.

As hoped, Shields worked into the seventh inning during Tampa Bay's 6-4 win over Chicago in Game 1. The left-handed Kazmir used the game to scout the White Sox, specifically when fellow Rays lefty J.P. Howell spun a shutout inning of relief in the eighth. Kazmir's style falls more in line with Howell than with Shields.

"I was looking more at J.P. Howell's outing," Kazmir said. "Just lefty-on-lefty, trying to see how he went about it and everything. [Shields and I] are different pitchers and he throws a lot more offspeed. With J.P. having a fastball and a curveball, it works more into my game."

Kazmir has had his share of stuggles this season, but he's performed well against the White Sox. For his career, Kazmir is 3-1 with a 3.34 ERA in five outings against Chicago, and the southpaw has gone 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the club this year. On Friday, he'll be paired against White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle.

Game 2: Just the facts
Tropicana Field, 6:07 p.m. ET
White Sox starter: LHP Mark Buehrle
2008: 15-12, 3.79 ERA
2008 on road: 4-9, 5.05 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 0-1, 4.58 ERA
Career vs. Rays: 6-2, 4.24 ERA
Career postseason: 2-0, 3.42 ERA, 1 save (two relief appearances)
Rays starter: LHP Scott Kazmir
2008: 12-8, 3.49 ERA
2008 at home: 8-2, 2.90 ERA
2008 vs. White Sox: 1-0, 2.08 ERA
Career vs. White Sox: 3-1, 3.34 ERA
Career postseason: First appearance
Rays lead series, 1-0. The team that has won Game 1 of an ALDS is 12-14 in those series.
Game 1: Rays 6, White Sox 4
Did You Know? The White Sox are now 4-17 on artificial turf this year, including Thursday's loss. They've lost 12 of those games by two runs or fewer.

Given Kazmir's late-season fade, though, his record might not be indicative of how well he'll fare this time around.

Maddon has been forced to use his bullpen more often on days Kazmir takes the hill. That helped convince Maddon that Game 2 was a more opportune time to start the lefty, especially with an off-day looming on Saturday to provide rest for the relievers. Keeping Kazmir's up-and-down campaign in mind, he could be on a short leash come Friday.

Maddon may be more inclined to let Kazmir work through any rough patches, though.

"That's always a moment by moment situation," Maddon said. "I'm not going in there thinking that we're going to have to do anything dramatic. I'm looking for him to pitch into the sixth or seventh inning.

"Guys that can grind it out -- we hear that phrase a lot in our game -- but when you play this many games this many days in a row, you have to be able to have that mindset. I believe Kaz is of that ilk, so you just have to stay with him."

Kazmir -- the youngest of Tampa Bay's starters -- has labored with longevity this season. In 27 starts this season, the hard-throwing southpaw pitched into the seventh inning on only six occasions. Five of those outings came between May 20-June 11, when Kazmir was in the midst of a strong early showing.

After missing all of April with a left elbow injury, Kazmir cruised to a 6-1 record with a tidy 1.40 ERA in his first seven starts of the season. Over his final 20 turns, though, Kazmir stumbled to a 6-7 ledger with a 4.36 ERA during that span. On the season, the lefty averaged 18.1 pitches per inning -- the most among big league starters.

Kazmir is hoping those woes are behind him.

"Hopefully, we'll see a very good Scott Kazmir," he said. "We've been working hard the last couple of outings -- side work -- just trying to fix my mechanics and find really a comfort zone that I'm looking for. Everything's been good. Everything's felt like kind of like it felt in the past -- in May."

"The moment's going to arise where he starts to feel more comfortable and feel it. And at that point, you're going to see him really step up."
-- Rays manager Joe Maddon, on Scott Kazmir

Kazmir struggled down the stretch as well, going 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA over his final four starts, in which he surrendered nine home runs in just 20 innings. Kazmir finished the season 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA, limiting hitters to a .220 average with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

So, Kazmir has flashed his talent at various points throughout the year. But for every strong outing, there seemed to be a setback.

On Sept. 25 in Detroit, Kazmir toed the rubber against the Tigers with a chance at clinching the AL East title for Tampa Bay. He allowed a career-high four home runs and exited after only five frames. In his previous appearance, Kazmir spun six shutout innings in a win over the Twins.

It's been a season filled with mechanical adjustments in search of consistency for Kazmir. Come Friday, Maddon hopes the young pitcher can push all the issues out of his mind and just seize the moment.

"For him, you want to continually tell him to go out there and pitch," Maddon said. "See the glove, throw to the glove, and just attack the zone and just let your natural abilities take over.

"The moment's going to arise where he starts to feel more comfortable and feel it. And at that point, you're going to see him really step up."

Jordan Bastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.