As green as the color of his hat, Scott Kazmir made his major league debut Monday evening against the Seattle Mariners a victorious one. The highly touted rookie stole the spotlight on a night that featured many of the best pitchers in baseball.
Johan Santana, the frontrunner for the American League Cy Young Award, pitched another brilliant game, striking out 11 batters while only allowing four hits and one walk over eight innings to gain his 14th win of the season. Pedro Martinez, a three-time Cy Young winner, struck out 10 but was overshadowed by Ted Lilly--who K'd 13 Red Sox in a three-hit, complete-game shutout. (It should also be noted that Jeremy Bonderman pitched the game of his life, fanning 14 and walking just one while registering a CG SHO.)
Over in the National League, Roger Clemens, the recipient of six Cy Youngs, hurled seven strong innings despite an injured right calf to notch his 323rd career victory. Jake Peavy, who has a good shot at leading the league in ERA, pitched well enough to defeat the organization that traded away the lefthander who was once thought to be an untouchable.
Now whether Mets fans should lay the blame for inexplicably trading away Kazmir at the feet of the Wilpons, Jim Duquette, Al Goldis, Rick Peterson, or Al Leiter, I have no idea. What I do know is that this trade made absolutely no sense. The Mets will rue the day they swapped a 20-year-old phenom for a 29-year-old stiff. I didn't get it a month ago, don't get it now, and won't get it in the future (even if it turns out that the Mets were right and I was wrong).
Despite the notion that There is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect, I would take my chances on Kazmir all morning, day, and night over Victor "The Wrong" Zambrano. (Tip of the cap to Avkash Patel at The Raindrops for the nickname.) No matter what kind of magic Peterson thinks he might be able to perform on pitchers, guys who lead the league in walks, hit batters, and wild pitches don't give me much reason for hope. Sure, there are a couple of indicators (H/IP and K/IP) that might lead one to think Zambrano has the makings of a decent pitcher. But despite having good stuff, he has shown no signs whatsoever of having the requisite command or control of his pitches to become a big-league star.
The fact that Zambrano was placed on the disabled list last week has no bearing in my thinking. Instead, it just shows that even veteran pitchers are health hazards. His elbow tendinitis may not cause the Mets' brass to stay up at night but hearing that Kazmir was making his first appearance in a big league game last night sure as heck made me stay up and take notice.
Thanks to MLB Extra Innings, I was able to watch every pitch that Kazmir threw yesterday--from the very first (a 94-mph fastball called strike to Ichiro Suzuki) to the very last (a ball to Raul Ibanez that catcher Toby Hall threw to Julio Lugo to throw out Ichiro trying to steal second). When Kazmir retired for the evening, he had thrown 101 pitches over the course of five well-pitched innings. (Pitch by pitch.)
IP H R ER BB K Kazmir 5 4 0 0 3 4
Benefiting from a four-run outburst in the top of the sixth, the young southpaw earned his first victory in the major leagues. Although Kazmir didn't allow a run, it was far from a perfect performance. He walked three, went too deep in the count on most batters, and was fortunate that Edgar Martinez's drive to right-center field in the third inning hit the thick yellow line at the top of the fence and bounced back into play for a double--inches short of being ruled a home run.
The #15 overall pick in the 2002 draft, Kazmir was everything we had all heard and read. He threw 93-95 mph consistently and hit 96 and 97 on the gun on occasion. The lefty has an easy throwing motion, filthy stuff, and seemingly impressive composure for someone who is not even old enough to drink.
Five months shy of his 21st birthday, Kazmir is not only the youngest pitcher to perform in the major leagues this season but perhaps one of the most talented as well. The kid who tossed six no-hitters in high school and led all minor league pitchers in K/IP in 2003 (with nearly 12 per nine innings) bypassed Triple-A after posting a combined ERA of 1.59 with 53 Ks and no home runs in 51 IP for the Mets' and Devil Rays' Double-A affiliates this summer.
The 6'0", 170-pound lefthanded power pitcher has been compared to a young Billy Wagner or even Ron Guidry or Randy Myers from the not too distant past. If handled properly, Kazmir has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for many years. He already has a major-league caliber fastball and slider and only needs to further develop his change-up (a pitch that he wasn't afraid to use Monday night) and improve his control to become known as the Kazmir Sweater--the type of pitcher that will send opponents perspiring in anticipation of facing him. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Kazmir causes more than a few lefthanded hitters down the road to find an excuse to take the day off when he is scheduled to pitch.
Is Kazmir a sure thing? Of course not. He hasn't even faced the Yankees or Red Sox yet. But I distinctly remember the last undersized, hard-throwing young pitcher who was traded for immediate help because it was thought he was a health risk or would never make it as a starter. Although it would be ludicrous to say that Kazmir is going to duplicate Pedro's career, I would venture to say that he may have already exceeded Zambrano's.