Friday September 4th, 2009

1. Did the Angels trade for a 25-year-old left-hander in decline or a guy recapturing the stuff that made him a strikeout champion at age 23? The first impression of Scott Kazmir, who in his last start was throwing in the mid-90s with touch on his changeup not seen for two years, is that Los Angeles just might be getting him at the right time. For that they might send at least a thank-you note to former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson.

Kazmir's agent called Peterson back on Memorial Day weekend to check on the struggling pitcher. Kazmir was throwing only 89-90 mph and had nearly abandoned his changeup, which he threw only four times in 93 pitches in his start against Oakland on May 20 before going on the DL. With the blessing of the Rays, Peterson, who runs 3P Sports, a high-tech evaluation and training service for pitchers, compared Kazmir's biomechanical analysis to a baseline he did with Kazmir back in 2004 with the Mets. "Thank goodness you shut him down when you did," Peterson told the Rays.

After a couple of mechanical tuneup sessions with Peterson -- one throwing to Peterson's son at a high school field in New Jersey and the other at a yoga studio in New York -- Kazmir began to regain his form. When Kazmir returned to the Rays, president Andrew Friedman remarked, "I've never seen his changeup like this."

Even as Kazmir started pitching well, the Rays were still motivated to move him in a trade because they regarded him as too expensive (about $23 million due to him through 2011) when measured against future budget concerns, such as keeping outfielder Carl Crawford.

Pitching against Seattle this week after the trade, Kazmir hit 95 mph with his fastball and threw 77 percent of his fastballs for strikes. He threw 11 changeups that averaged 80 mph, an impressive 15-mph split from his heater. The Angels, with Peterson's help, just might have found themselves a re-emerging star.

2. Most everyone is familiar with the Joba Rules and the careful treatment that the Yankees give Joba Chamberlain to protect his health. But such conservative treatment is becoming the industry standard almost everywhere except Texas and San Francisco. It's just that the Yankees generate so much media attention that Chamberlain's case has become controversial. It's not.

You might not be as familiar with Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. That's because they pitch for the last-place Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore is shutting them down for the season after perhaps two or three more starts. Why? The same reason the Yankees are careful with Chamberlain: predetermined innings limits.

For years I have tracked the risk associated with pushing young pitchers more than 30 innings past their previous season-high workload. The Orioles have their own rule of thumb: No young pitcher should throw more than 20 percent more innings than he did the previous season. "Twenty percent? That's conservative," remarked one pitching coach.

And so Matusz, 22, who threw 131 2/3 innings last year between the University of San Diego and the Arizona Fall League, should be capped at about 158 innings. (He has logged 143 2/3 so far.) Tillman, 21, who threw 135 2/3 innings last year, should be capped at about 162. He has thrown 137.

"We'll find somebody else to pitch when we have to," manager Dave Trembley said. "Their futures are more important than whether they give us a better chance to win a game in September."

3. Just how tough is that Yankees lineup, especially against right-handers and especially at Yankee Stadium with that shorter porch in right? There have been 134 starts against New York this year. In only nine of those 134 starts did the pitcher last at least seven innings and get the win. And only once did a right-handed pitcher get the win at Yankee Stadium by lasting at least seven innings against New York: Brett Myers of the Phillies, way back on May 22.

Teams have tried throwing a right-handed starter against New York at Yankee Stadium 39 times this year. They are 11-28 in those games, including 5-19 since the win by Myers.

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