Saying he was not a fan of "last-minute changes,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon met with the media today at Fenway Park to explain that the sudden switch he made from James Shields to Scott Kazmir as his Game 5 starter Thursday night against the Red Sox was, in fact, a premeditated move.
"We talked about it before the series even began,'' said Maddon, whose team annihilated the Red Sox, 13-4, in Game 4 Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven ALCS. "If we got to a certain point like we are right now, it's kind of consistent with what we've done when he's had a day off after he pitches.''
Kazmir, who drew the start in Game 2 of the ALCS, lasted just 4 1/3 innings in the Rays' 9-8 win in 11 innings last Saturday night after allowing five runs on six hits to go along with three walks and two strikeouts. After getting two quick outs in the first inning, Kazmir struggled to get out of the frame, throwing 38 pitches (on more than the first inning of his first start in the AL Division Series vs. the White Sox) after giving up two runs on Jason Bay's double to left.
He departed in the fifth with the game tied at 5 after giving up solo homers to Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.
Kazmir, who has struggled against the Red Sox this season (a 9.00 ERA in four regular season starts), will start Game 5 on four days' rest, but will be backed up by a full complement of relievers.
"We know Scotty's difficulties recently,'' Maddon said. "Although you could look at the [ALDS] game against the White Sox when he had a bad first inning, but got deeper in the game. I thought the other day against the Red Sox he was throwing ball great the first inning, of course until the walk to Papi.
"Then it kind of got away from him a little bit,'' Maddon added. "But we felt it was the right thing to do right now. We liked the fact that he was pitching with an open day following, the ability to utilize the entire bullpen well, we also liked the idea of him pitching here, and we liked the idea of Shields being able to pitch at home, if necessary.
"Again, this did not just happen last night or the night before,'' Maddon added. "We talked about this prior to the series ever opening.''
Shields has been much better at home than on the road this season: he's 9-2 with a 2.59 ERA at the Trop, and 1-1 with 3.29 ERA in the postseason. Further, at Fenway this season, he's 0-2 with a 21.21 ERA in two starts.
Asked how Shields took the news, Maddon responded, "Great. I had been talking to both of them a day or two in advance just to give them a heads-up that if it did occur, that we were potentially going to do this. So they were both aware of it in advance. Shieldsy was great.''
Shields is scheduled to face Red Sox righthander Josh Beckett in Game 6. Manager Terry Francona reiterated yesterday that he will not move up Jon Lester from Game 7 to Game 6.
Maddon emphasized that this change should not be interpreted as a no-confidence vote for Kazmir.
"Again, listen, this young man is a tremendous talent,'' Maddon said. "I'm going to say it again, at any moment he can just catch fire. The arm is fine. I've seen flashes recently. And I'd like to see him get off quickly tomorrow, that would be great. And if he does and he gets the first couple innings under his belt in good order, this guy can pitch deep into the game.''
Maddon denied that the Rays made the switch because they wanted to avoid having Kazmir pitch with umpire Derryl Cousins behind the plate. Cousins is scheduled to call balls and strikes in Game 6, and there is a history between the umpire and Kazmir. Following a 6-2 loss to the Angels June 11 during which the Rays' lefthander questioned Cousins's strike zone, he accused the veteran umpire of making "makeup calls" in certain situations.
"No, [Kazmir's history with Cousins] really didn't [have an effect], that was just a coincidence," Maddon said. "I didn't even know how the umpires would be set up. I'm very aware of what happened in Anaheim. I actually got kicked out of that game. So, no, the answer is that it had nothing to do with it, it had everything to do with what I just explained."
Kazmir echoed his manager's explanation.
"I don't think that was an issue at all. I wasn't worried about that at all," he said "I don't think that had any way of making a decision for Joe just based on that. I think that it was kind of coincidence somehow how that happened. So it doesn't bother me all."
So what do you think of this move? Does it give the Red Sox more of a chance in this series? Let us know in the comments section.