With more zeros, Kazmir finishes stellar July

With more zeros, Kazmir finishes stellar July

HOUSTON -- Through no fault of either player or manager, A.J. Hinch doesn't know Scott Kazmir well.

Kazmir's been an Astro for just seven days. Hinch has somewhat of a rapport with his newest starter, but not nearly the bond he's formed with the other players he's overseen since Spring Training.

After Kazmir finished his seventh scoreless inning in Thursday's 3-0 victory against the Angels, Hinch approached the Houston native to gauge what he had left, especially with the potent Angels lineup set to turn over in the eighth.

"I knew he was tiring, I knew where we were in the order," Hinch said. "I told [him], 'Give me as much as you can until the point where you need help.'"

Kazmir allowed a sharp leadoff single to Johnny Giavotella, who was sacrificed to second on a Taylor Featherston bunt. Shane Victorino walked and Kazmir uncorked a wild pitch to advance the go-ahead runners to second and third with two-hole hitter Kole Calhoun at the plate.

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Kazmir planned on bombarding him with tailing sliders.

"That didn't happen," Kazmir said. "Got to a full count and ended up just letting go of a fastball that ran up and in and ended up getting him."

The pitch, a 94-mph head-high fastball, got Calhoun on a check swing to end Kazmir's evening on his fifth strikeout. He left to a roaring ovation from 27,598 in Minute Maid Park, some of whom were Kazmir's friends and family from nearby towns.

Coming into that eighth inning, Kazmir had retired seven of his last eight and didn't allow a runner past first base until Featherston's sacrifice. He lowered his July ERA to an MLB-best 0.26, which is the third-lowest-recorded ERA in July in the last century.

"I've been feeling great form pitch one," Kazmir said. "It feels like I'm able to work both sides of the plate and expand the zone. That was the key for me this whole month, pretty much this whole year, especially this month, just being able to use all my pitches and being able to have a feel for them in any count. That's been the key."

After tossing seven shutout innings in his Astros debut, Kazmir's gem Thursday made him the third pitcher in Astros history to throw seven or more shutout innings in their first two games -- and the first since 1965.

His 2.10 ERA is now the best in a suddenly deep Astros rotation that could eventually include new acquisition Mike Fiers, someone who will have a tough act to follow when he gets to Houston.

"It's the reason we traded for him," Hinch said of Kazmir. "It's the reason he can be a real difference-maker for us. It brings another difficult guy to score against in our rotation to go along with a couple other guys who are pretty good. Our team is going to have a ton of confidence when he gets on the mound [next time]."

Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.