Two intriguing pitching matchups and Shaun Marcum's long-overdue first start of the year highlight this weekend's series.
Scott Kazmir: Is gradually getting his velocity back where it's been the last few years. It had been in the low 90s in some of his earlier starts; last time out, he was hitting 94 regularly. Not having the high heater in his bag of tricks feels odd to Kazmir: "I don't want to have to make them have to hit into an out. I want to be able to attack them and play my game." He's still been very effective (he's 2-1 with a sub-4 ERA), and he's gotten a few groundballs more than usual while keeping his pitch counts down to offset the slightly lower strikeout rate resulting from his lost velocity. If he continues the great success he's had early in his career, there will certainly be many more flights on A-Rod's private jet in Kazmir's future.
Edwin Jackson: Came to the Rays in the Danys Baez trade two years ago and is being given a shot at a full-time spot in the rotation, much like his opponent Saturday, Dustin McGowan. Jackson, who is German-born (his father was a cook in the U.S. Army stationed there), is still winless but has a very live arm. He regularly throws in the low-mid-90s and tends to pick up velocity as the game goes on, or when he needs a strikeout. He'll probably hit 98 a couple of times. He also throws a slider and an occasional change, and tries to pound hitters down and away with all three pitches.
Jackson has never really had great strikeout or walk numbers in or above AAA despite his good stuff, which may be a by-product of pitching tensely on the mound. He can have bouts of walks and has his best success when he just challenges hitters. His last two starts are a microcosm of where he is right now. In a May 1 loss against Minnesota, he lasted 1.1 innings, allowing 6 runs while throwing 49 pitches to 12 hitters. "The truth is - excuse my French - I just pitched like a [expletive] today," Jackson said after the loss. "Point-blank. You can quote it. I just pitched with no conviction." In his most recent start, Sunday against Oakland, Jackson overcame first-inning command issues to engage himself in a pitchers' duel with Oakland's Joe Blanton. Jackson retired 11 hitters in a row in the middle innings to keep the game tied at 3 into the seventh. With one out in that seventh, however, Jackson hung a slider to Nick Swisher that turned out to be the game's deciding run. Marc Topkin says Joe Maddon likes how Jackson gets stronger as games progress and intends to give him the highest pitch counts of all his starters.
Jae Seo: If the Jays' losing streak makes it to Sunday intact, Seo will be the most formidable obstacle it has faced. The Rays are actually 4-3 when Seo starts, but Seo himself has been rocked. Seo lives and dies with his ability to locate his fastball and changeup. He's added a two-seamer to his arsenal this year and occasionally throws a breaking ball too. Don't mention him around the Rays Index, though.
Akinori Iwamura: Is on the 15-day DL with a strained right oblique. He hit off a tee today and will probably be back in Tampa within two weeks. Carlos Pena has been the chief beneficiary of the injury, with regular first baseman Ty Wigginton sliding over to third.
Carl Crawford: Was robbed of a homer this week. "I'll guarantee you, this won't be the last time something like this happens. ... They took a home run [away] from me last year. That was a home run inside the park, I was safe on that. I just need to stop hitting home runs."
Ben Zobrist: Was demoted yesterday. He's really, really struggling: 0 walks and 15 strikeouts in 66 plate appearances for a .159/.156/.222 line. Hot-hitting Brendan Harris is the everyday shortstop for now. Zobrist turns 26 this month, and time is definitely not on his side with the Rays' multitude of shortstop prospects breathing down his neck. Perhaps he might be an interesting buy-low trade target for teams with shortstop issues.
Josh Wilson: Waiver claim from Washington who's taking Zobrist's spot on the 25-man roster. Wilson is not off to a good start either, but the Rays (rightly) don't want Zobrist decaying on a bench.
The Trop: Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has been in the news for his comments on the Rays' stadium situation recently.
Juan Salas: Tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was accordingly suspended for 50 games. Tim Corcoran was called up to replace him.
The Credit Section: Batted-ball and Leverage Index are available at Fangraphs. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances. Everything else, most notably the AL average statistics, is available at The Hardball Times.