Kazmir now closes May looking to extend one of the best stretches of his career, leading the Rays against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday as these division leaders continue their four-game series.
With a victory Saturday, Kazmir (4-1, 1.50 ERA) would match the longest winning streak of his career at five games, previously achieved in 2006. The 24-year-old left-hander spent the first month of the season sidelined by a left elbow strain, then lost his first start at Boston on May 4 after allowing four runs over four innings in a 7-3 loss.
Kazmir, who signed a $28.5 million, three-year contract extension with the Rays (33-22) on May 14, has been outstanding since that loss, allowing two runs over 26 innings to win his last four starts. He gave up one run and three hits in seven innings while striking out a season-high 10 on Monday in a 7-3 win over Texas.
“My slider finally came back,” said Kazmir, who improved to 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA in three starts at Tropicana Field this year. “I felt like I was trusting it a little more. Everything felt good.”
Kazmir, who is 2-1 with a 4.19 ERA in three starts against the White Sox, looks to follow up a solid outing by James Shields on Friday.
Shields pitched six innings, allowing one run and seven hits in a 2-1 win over Chicago (30-24). He gave up a solo home run to Alexei Ramirez in the fifth to tie the game, but Cliff Floyd hit a leadoff homer in the ninth to send the Rays to their sixth win through eight games of a 10-game homestand.
“Before I went up there, everyone’s telling me to end the game, so I had a little more pressure than I wanted to have,” Floyd said. “To just contribute to this team, the way we’ve been winning, it makes you sleep a ton better.”
The win was the 18th in the last 21 home games for the AL East-leading Rays, dating to their last series loss at Tropicana—versus Chicago from April 18-20. Tampa Bay opened this series against the AL Central-leading White Sox with a 5-1 loss on Thursday.
Chicago went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position while striking out 10 times on Friday. Scott Linebrink ended a streak by the White Sox bullpen of 28 innings without allowing an earned run when he gave up the game-winning homer to Floyd.
“This type of game happens when your offense don’t do what it’s supposed to do over the course of nine innings,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Chicago has won four of six and is 12-4 since May 13.
Javier Vazquez (5-3, 3.52) hopes the White Sox offense can heat up Saturday as he looks to win his third straight decision. Vazquez has a 2.85 ERA over his last six starts and Chicago has won his last four. He pitched six innings on Monday against Cleveland, allowing three runs and nine hits in the 12-inning, 6-3 win.
The right-hander, who has the fourth-highest run support average in the AL at 6.4 runs per game, won at Tampa Bay on April 18 as he gave up two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 9-2 victory. Vazquez is 5-2 with a 4.48 ERA in 10 career starts against the Rays, including a 3-1 mark at Tropicana.