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Ships May Ply the Stormy Ocean: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Well, at least the Jays did manage to take the last game of the series, but any time you lose a series 3-1 to a division rival, you're going to be frustrated.  When that series is against the Yankees it just makes you grind your teeth together even harder.  The Jays hope to end the first half of the season on a good note as they continue their road trip.  Coming up next, the Jays go to Tampa Bay to take on the Rays in a mid-week series 7-9 July.  Marc Smith Rzepczynski makes his major league debut tomorrow night for the Jays and James Shields pitches for the home team.  On Wednesday night, two southpaws meet, when Brian Tallet pitches for Toronto and Scott Kazmir is on the hill for the Rays.  Finally, there is a getaway game on Thursday afternoon, when Doc looks for his first win since returning from the DL and young lefty David Price starts for Tampa Bay.



7 July

James Shields (6-6, 3.50, 1.271 WHIP)

Shield was covered just last week, so I won't get into any more detail on him right now, but I imagine we all remember his last start, an hard-luck loss to our Jays when he pitched into the eighth inning and ended up giving up five runs despite striking out eight and walking just one.  Rod Barajas tagged him for an homerun in the seventh inning and Adam Lind and Scott Rolen went back-to-back in the eighth, so we'll see if they can do the same this week.


8 July

Scott Kazmir (4-5, 6.79, 1.796 WHIP)

Kazmir has been around so long, you may not realize how young he still is at just 25.  He was a first-round pick out of high school and has been in the majors since he was just 20 years old.  The oft-injured lefty had a rough start to the season, but has put together two fine starts since returning from the Disabled List 27 June.  If you've ever heard the phrase "pitch-to-contact" associated with Scott Kazmir, I assume there was a "not" in there somewhere.  Over 778 2/3 career innings, Kazmir has struck out 829 batters (9.6 K/9), but he has also walked 363 (4.2 BB/9).  For some perspective, through age 25, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan had pretty similar peripherals (9.0 K/9 vs. 4.8 BB/9 for Koufax and 9.3 K/9 vs. 5.7 BB/9 for Ryan).  If you're pitching to about as much contact as a young Koufax or Ryan, you're not pitching to much contact.  As mentioned above, Kazmir got off to a rough start to 2009 before going on the DL, but has bounced back well since his return.  Overall, Kazmir has started 11 games and pitched 55 2/3 innings, striking out 46 (7.4 K/9) and walking 31 (5.0 BB/9), but in his two starts since his return he's struck out 11 (9.9 K/9) and walked just two (1.8 BB/9) over ten innings (five innings in each start).  His peripherals have not been very good, but as long as his strand-rate of just 63% increases a bit, his ERA should come down a bit closer to his FIP of 5.35.

So far this season, Kazmir has PQSed 3, 5, 0, 3, 0, 4, 1, 0, 0, 4 and 4 for a mean of just 2.2 and Dominance- and Disaster-rates of 36% each.

Kazmir has always been extremely tough on lefties (.220 / .283 / .328; 3.19 K/9 career) and relatively successful against righties (.254 / .346 / .419; 2.11 K/9).  This season, lefties have hit him quite hard (.306 / .394 / .581; 4 HR in 71 Plate Appearances) and righties have hit him harder than in the past as well (.298 / .379 / .452).  Nonetheless, given the option, I'd try my luck against Jeff Niemann again this week before facing Kazmir.  Unfortunately, we weren't given that option, so Kazmir it will be.

Kazmir throws both kinds of fastballs and can dial up his four-seamer to the mid-90's.  He also throws a hard slider to lefties and a change to righties.  His best pitch is probably his four-seamer but if he is locating his change, you'll see him miss a lot of bats with it as well.  All in all, the Jays will be glad to have three strikes per at-bat, because they'll likely need all of them pretty frequently.


9 July

David Price (2-3, 5.21, 1.711 WHIP)

The 2007 first overall pick and super-prospect out of Vanderbilt University is a tall kid who was called up towards the end of last season and pitched well enough during the season to make the postseason roster and pitch 5 1/3 innings last postseason between the ALCS and World Series.  Price has had a bit rougher go of it in his eight starts so far this season since being called up in late May, but has shown flashes of absolute brilliance.  Over 38 innings, the tall lefty has struck out 40 (9.5 K/9) but has also walked 30 (7.1 BB/9) and allowed seven homers (1.7 HR/9).  He still has plenty of time to work on his command, so we'll be seeing plenty of him in the next few years.  Price's minor league sample is small, but he did not have any control problems in college, A+ or AA ball, but has had some difficulty at the AAA level (4.6 BB/9, albeit in just 52 1/3 innings).  Price's ERA this season has been inflated somewhat by a low strand-rate (65%), but probably not quite as much as his good fortune on batted balls (.277 BABIP despite 24% linedrive-rate) has kept it down.

In his eight starts, Price has PQSed 0, 4, 2, 0, 3, 0, 3 and 0 for a mean of just 1.5 and a Dominance-rate of only 12.5% and Disaster-rate of 50%.  When he scored a four, he was pretty masterful, though, striking out 11 and walking two over 5 2/3 innings.

As you'd expect of a tall southpaw, in his short major league career, Price has pitched well against lefties (.246 / .328 / .368; 2.14 K/9).  He has been pretty effective against righties as well (.213 / .339 / .404; 1.37 K/9), but a drastic difference in BABIP (.317 vs. lefties, .232 vs. righties) suggests that his platoon splits should be more extreme than they seem.  In the minors, Price struck out lefties at a higher rate (10.2 K/9 against lefties, 8.1 K/9 against righties) but he's also walked them a bit more (3.3 BB/9 against lefties, 2.9 BB/9 against righties).

Price can get his four-seam fastball up into the mid-high 90's, and throws his two-seamer in the low-90s range.  He also throws a hard slider in the high 80's, but the pitch is more of a power curve type pitch, with little horizontal movement.  We may see him throw a straight change or two just to mix things up if he's ahead in the count against a free swinger like Big Rod, but he's primarily a two-pitch pitcher at this point in his career.