Kazmir, Rodney maintaining their positions

Kazmir, Rodney maintaining their positions

Kazmir, Rodney maintaining their positions
PHOENIX -- The Angels gathered in Arizona almost six weeks ago with questions hovering over two roles on their otherwise stacked pitching staff.

Would fifth starter Scott Kazmir and nominal closer Fernando Rodney inspire confidence in their roles after less than impressive 2010 seasons?

Neither question has been answered with any degree of assurance as Opening Day on March 31 in Kansas City fast approaches.

Kazmir and Rodney have experienced inconsistent springs, yet both have done enough to hold their positions in the eyes of manager Mike Scioscia.

Kazmir's fifth start on Thursday in Tempe against the Brewers was his worst of the spring statistically. He was charged with 10 runs, eight earned, across five innings, yielding eight hits and three walks while striking out four.

His final spring tuneup comes on Tuesday against the Dodgers at Angel Stadium, putting him on schedule to face the Royals on April 3 in the finale of a season-opening four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.

"He's got to put some pitches together with consistency," Scioscia said of Kazmir, who spent the winter in Arizona getting himself fit and mentally ready for a comeback season after a frustrating 2010 campaign.

"Regardless of what options we have or don't have now, our goal is to get Kaz back to where he was at the end of the '09 season. It's not like we're going back four years.

"It all starts with commanding the ball. It's not as easy as throwing the ball down the middle. It's making good pitches and being able to repeat them with consistency. Last year, it was tough for him to find a release point to repeat pitches."

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Kazmir's velocity, which hovered in the 93-97 mph range at his peak in Tampa Bay, has fallen to the high 80s, low 90s. He said he's "not worried about velocity," and Scioscia maintains that is not the main issue.

"He has enough velocity," the manager said. "It's really a matter of managing the velocity with command to repeat pitches in good zones. It's been a struggle for him."

Kazmir, still young at 27, said he was encouraged by the bite on his slider and the life on his fastball against the Brewers despite an ugly box score.

He said his arm, from the shoulder to the fingertips, "feels so much better" than last year when he had a career-worst season: 9-15, 5.94 ERA in 28 starts.

That was a far cry from his ERAs of 3.24, 3.48 and 3.49 in consecutive seasons (2006-2008) when he was among the American League's dominant starters, leading the league in strikeouts in '07, at 23, with 239. He's had fewer than half that many (117 and 93) the past two seasons.

Kazmir is 0-2 with a 7.79 ERA in five Cactus League outings, with 12 walks against 10 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.

"He's made progress," Scioscia said, praising Kazmir for his commitment to a winter workout regimen in Arizona. "But he hasn't shown he's broken through whatever is holding him from getting back to where he was. In a nutshell, he's absolutely making progress but he's not where he wants to be."

Rodney, who struggled after assuming the closing duties following Brian Fuentes' trade to the Twins last July, is motivated to prove he can be a reliable closer in the final year of his contract.

The man from Samana, D.R., has had six good outings this spring and two rocky ones. Like Kazmir, Rodney's most recent effort in the same game against the Brewers was less than impressive.

After giving up a double, single and two walks while getting one out, Rodney was replaced with young Matt Meyer, who slammed the door on the Brewers.

Rodney had struck out the side, giving up one hit, 24 hours earlier against the Giants.

"It was back-to-back days, and he'd thrown a lot of pitches," Scisocia said. "He had great life on the ball in the zone early in the count. Some things got away from him, but Fernando's where he needs to be."

In eight appearances covering 7 1/3 innings, Rodney has allowed 12 hits and five walks while striking out eight hitters with a 3.68 ERA. He was 14-for-21 in save attempts last year.

"When my changeup feels good," Rodney said, "it makes my fastball better. When everything's right, fastball and changeup, I'm feeling good, getting guys out. When I don't have my good changeup, it makes it harder."

The Angels' most effective relievers have been new lefty Hisanori Takahashi (11 innings, no earned runs, seven baserunners), Jordan Walden (seven innings, no runs, seven baserunners), and Michael Kohn (nine innings, one earned run, 12 baserunners).

Rodney goes into the season as the closer, but it remains to be seen how long Scioscia will stick with him if he doesn't find consistency in the strike zone.

Along with Takahashi, Walden and Kohn, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs also are potential closing candidates. Downs will open the season on the 15-day disabled list as the bone fracture in his left big toe heals.

"We have a lot of options at the back end of the bullpen," Scioscia said, giving indications that he wouldn't be averse to using multiple closers to fit situations even though he prefers one lockdown ninth-inning operator.

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