Kazmir named AL Pitcher of the Month

Kazmir named AL Pitcher of the Month

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was sometime in mid-April after throwing a bullpen session that Scott Kazmir finally seemed ready to divulge a secret about his left elbow strain.

"I thought after I got evaluated by a trainer, it was going to be maybe a week," he confessed of the injury suffered on Feb. 25.

More than two months later, Kazmir's patient acceptance of the Rays meticulous timetable has paid off.

Following a season debut loss at Fenway Park on May 4, the lefty has pitched his way to five straight wins and compiled an astonishing 0.55 ERA, earning him the American League Pitcher of the Month accolade. It also marks the first monthly award in Rays history.

Kazmir posted a 5-1 record with a 1.22 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 37.0 innings of work in May, allowing five earned runs on 22 hits and 13 walks.

Others receiving votes were Toronto Blue Jays teammates Roy Halladay (4-1, 2.52 ERA, 40 SO, 39.1 IP, 1 CG) and Jesse Litsch (4-0, 2.08 ERA, 17 SO, 39.0 IP, 1 SHO), Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks (8 Saves in 11 games, 0.84 ERA, 8 SO, 10.2 IP) and Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-0, 2.54 ERA, 23 SO, 28.1 IP).

His five wins in May -- a new Rays record -- are unquestionably impressive. But the way Kazmir has dominated each appearance on the mound has drawn league-wide admiration.

"He shut our whole lineup down," Rangers manager Ron Washington said after Texas was held to three hits on May 26."You can't just say that [AL Player of the Month Josh] Hamilton was nervous. That guy pitched pretty good. He could shut anybody down the way he pitched."

The reigning AL strikeout king fanned 10 Texas batters in seven innings -- including seven of the first nine -- and held the Rangers to just one run.

That was one run more than the White Sox could muster up on Saturday night, as the South Siders joined the Yankees and the Angels as the third squad to be blanked by Kazmir.

"He was wildly effective," Chicago's Joe Crede said. "He was able to locate the pitches when he needed, like when he was behind in the count or had a hitter at 3-2. He made pitches when he had to with guys on base."

Added Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: "Kazzy threw real well, but that's nothing new. Every time we face him, he throws the ball good. He outpitched us."

It's a familiar feeling league-wide. Kazmir's May ERA of 1.22 was second in the Majors only to Cleveland's Aaron Laffey (0.79), and his .172 opposing hitters' batting average was lowest among all Major League qualifiers for the month.

The youngest member of the Rays rotation, Kazmir is on a torrid pace to surpass his 2007 numbers, where he posted a 13-9 record with a 3.48 ERA.

So, was the 24-year-old dreaming of this success this spring, while wallowing in countless long toss sessions and arm-strengthening "sock drills"?

The answer is a resounding no.

"I mean you shoot for [it], to do what you can," he said. "Come out strong, starting out strong, but all I try to do is keep the team in the game. That's all you can do."

That goal has gone produced similar results, as the Rays have jumped out to a franchise-best 35-22, including a 19-10 run in May.

The monthly award may be Kazmir's first, but -- if Maddon's words are any indication -- it won't be the hurler's last.

"He said it the other day, and I still believe there's still another gear left in there too," Maddon said. "We saw better [on Saturday] but I don't think you've seen the best of him yet."

Added Kazmir, who is due to pitch in his native Texas on Friday, "[It's] all about taking the next step. It feels like every time I'm out there I'm getting stronger and stronger."

After all, patience is a virtue Kazmir knows well.

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