The big boys of the AL East -- the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees -- seem to bring out the best in Rays lefty Scott Kazmir, and as he enters Tuesday night's start against the division-leading Red Sox, the 23-year-old said he's feeling as confident as he ever has as a major-leaguer. And his recent performance -- one run in his past 19 innings -- proves it.
"I feel like I can throw where I want, which is something a pitcher needs," Kazmir said. "It feels like now I can set up hitters instead of just throw it by them. I feel comfortable."
Kazmir has had great success against the Red Sox this season, limiting them to a .215 average. He has had particular success against Boston's combination punch of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who are a combined 9-for-66 (.136) in their careers against him with 20 strikeouts.
"You just need to look at them and see what patterns you're throwing to them and mix it up a little bit and still keep them guessing," Kazmir said. "These guys are unbelievable hitters, so you know they're going to get theirs. You've just got to limit them, so just do the same thing I've been doing."
And with 18 of the Rays' final 45 games entering Monday against Boston and New York, Kazmir has an opportunity to improve on sparkling numbers (7-6, 2.87 ERA in 20 career appearances) against the top teams in the East.
"Kaz had been really good," manager Joe Maddon said. "Early in the season, he struggled with his command a little bit and his mechanics were fluctuating. All of a sudden, he's finding a nice little rhythm in his delivery. "
RED SOX 3, DEVIL RAYS 0: Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield threw six no-hit innings, and allowed just two hits over eight scoreless, handing the Rays their sixth loss in seven games against Tampa Bay this season.
After allowing a run in the first inning, Rays starter James Shields held the Red Sox scoreless for the next five frames, yielding just three hits.
-- The Rays didn't sign RHP Fernando Cabrera as a free agent Monday. They claimed him on release waivers instead -- keeping him from hitting the open market, at least for now.
Cabrera has five days to decide whether to accept and join the Rays, or decline and become a free agent (and, in theory, still sign a new deal with the Rays).
It didn't cost the Rays much to try it this way, as his salary of $391,800 (which they would be responsible for) is only slightly more than the major-league minimum, and the claim costs $1. Cabrera, let go by Cleveland last week after going 1-2 with a 5.61 ERA, is out of options, so the Rays would have to keep him on the big-league roster.
-- Three seasons ago, Rays RHP Dan Wheeler -- a Warwick, R.I., native -- came one win away from playing the Red Sox in the World Series when he pitched for the Astros.
It didn't happen then for Wheeler, who grew up a Red Sox fan, and in his first stint with the Rays he never pitched in Boston, so Monday marked his first trip to Fenway Park as a player.
"I think this was the last stadium I hadn't been to," he said. "I was beginning to think I wasn't ever going to make it. But for me, it's definitely worth the wait."
-- Class Single-A Columbus RHP Wade Townsend, the Rays' first-round pick in 2005, has gone on the DL with elbow problems. Townsend lasted just 3 1/3 innings and allowed six runs in his last start Wednesday. Townsend, who had "Tommy John" surgery last year, skipped a start with elbow soreness, and then made two more until he was shelved.
-- Class Triple-A Durham pitcher and 2004 first-rounder Jeff Niemann, on the DL with shoulder problems, is scheduled to throw a simulated game Wednesday, Rays minor-league director Mitch Lukevics said, and he could return next week.
--There was no news on contract negotiations with first-round pick LHP David Price as Wednesday's deadline approaches, but the team said talks were progressing. Negotiations could go all the way until the deadline.
--Manager Joe Maddon said that injured CF Rocco Baldelli's running speed is improving and he could begin a rehab assignment in a week. Baldelli has been on the DL since May 17 with a left hamstring strain.
BY THE NUMBERS: 61 -- Career homers by Carl Crawford, good enough to move into third place on the Rays' all-time home-run list, though matching the seventh-most on the all-time list for a single season, Roger Maris in 1961.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Molten. Magma. What is there?" -- Manager Joe Maddon, trying to describe how far past red-hot Carl Crawford has been of late.