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Amped up Vazquez toils in debut

Vazquez toils in debut

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Javier Vazquez didn't know exactly how many pitches he'd thrown on Sunday.

His pitch count might have hit 30 alone just in the first inning. Vazquez simply couldn't say -- not with any certainty.

"It felt like 80," Vazquez said.

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Whatever the number, the total was higher than he'd have liked.

"It seemed like he was feeling a little bit too strong, maybe a little bit hyped-up," said bench coach Joey Cora, filling in for manager Ozzie Guillen, who was with the team in Mexico.

But, hey, it was just a Cactus League ballgame, and it was Vazquez's first outing of Spring Training. So he might not be surprised that he was hyped-up and didn't craft a masterpiece, although he'd have preferred a performance that looked a tad better than this one did.

Pitching in the wind tunnel that is often Tucson Electric Park, Vazquez couldn't complete his allotted assignment of three innings. He lasted 2 1/3 innings in a split-squad game, gave up five hits and five runs, although only four of those runs were earned.

Was Vazquez simply not feeling well?

"No," he said, "I felt great."

Vazquez just looked at his outing against the Diamondbacks as one of the byproducts of a pitcher trying to get his stuff ready for the regular season. His outing wasn't atypical of what any pitcher might do in his early outings in Cactus League play.

Midseason form isn't necessarily what a pitcher will produce on March 2, and definitely not with a wind blowing balls high and deep into the outfield.

Yet the wind was less of an issue than his command, Vazquez said.

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"The worst part is not getting ahead and giving up the home runs, you know; the worst part is being kinda all over the place like I was today," he said. "That was the worst part about it."

His inability to command the strike zone put him in bad pitch counts, and he made it clear he understood the dangers of that quite well.

"In the regular season, you can't get behind hitters," he said. "You gotta stay ahead of them -- down in the zone. When you're not, that's what happens."

But this isn't the regular season. It's the exhibition season, and pitchers, even the ones with Vazquez's pedigree, can find the going difficult when they aren't sharp. And he wasn't sharp, Cora said.

"He ran a little bit out of gas, obviously, because he threw a lot of pitches in the first inning," Cora said.

He can file an outing like this one away and keep honing his talents.

He's here to work on his stuff -- his fastball and the rest of it. He's here to get ready for the 2008 season. What he does here isn't a measure of what he'll do in the season, as his Spring Training performance last season showed.

"I don't think I threw a good game in Spring Training last year," Vazquez said.

Once the '07 season started, Vazquez was a different pitcher. He went 15-8 with a 3.74 ERA. So he knows what to do with this ugly outing: forget about it.

What he won't forget, though, is the root of what his struggles were on Sunday: his inability to command the strike zone. That was behind Vazquez's frustration with his outing, not the five runs and hits he gave up.

"That's the worst part of today," Vazquez said. "Not doing that."

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

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