Kazmir shines as Heilman flops

NEW YORK -- Aaron Heilman and Scott Kazmir weren't pitching against each other last night, taking the mound in opposite leagues on mirroring ends of the country. <P> But if you were to compare the results achieved by Heilman and Kazmir – two former Mets No. 1 draft picks – in New York and Seattle, respectively, you'd have to say that Kazmir won hands down.

Kazmir, whom the Mets believed wasn't capable of becoming an impact player in the major leagues until late 2005 or early 2006, looked plenty ready to handle the challenges of big league hitters right now.

It will remain to be seen if any kind of scouting report gets around the American League on Kazmir, but making his debut Monday night for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays against the Seattle Mariners, the 6'0" lefthander used the diamond at Safeco Field as a stage to show the Mets just what they'd tossed away in last month's trade for Victor Zambrano.

A fastball that crackled up to 97 MPH in the strike zone. Filthy breaking sliders. A changeup that made Edgar Martinez – a professional hitter in every sense of the word – look absolutely foolish.

Kazmir wasn't untouchable – Seattle had runners on in each of his five scoreless innings – but he rang up four strikeouts.

It was all a lot better than what Heilman brought to the table back at Shea, where the former Notre Dame righthander found himself in the clubhouse by the fourth inning and had to consider himself lucky not to be down more than 4-0. The Mets lost by that margin, 8-4.

"You can't afford to get to the fourth inning and not go deeper in the game," said Mets manager Art Howe, who was clearly disappointed that the improved scouting reports on Heilman didn't bear fruit.

After all, before the game, Howe had actually compared Heilman to another tall, lanky hurler of years past – flamethrowing J.R. Richard of the old Houston Astros.

"Tonight was one of those nights," Heilman said. "The ball wasn't going where I wanted it to go. Sometimes you have those nights, and you just have to battle through them."

No such problems with the Devil Rays, who are almost certain to keep Kazmir around for a second start, and if that goes well, a third and fourth. That last start would come against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, another dig in the Mets' open wounds.

Meanwhile, the Mets are left to find a way to ship Heilman back to Triple-A and get Matt Ginter back on the roster, a move that may have become possible when reliever Mike DeJean felt a twinge in his right ankle while stretching in the bullpen and left Shea on crutches. He'll have an MRI Tuesday.

However, it's possible New York could give Heilman a second go-round in the rotation, although it didn't seem from Howe's tone that they would. Heilman – who pitched through his entire 6-9, 4.50 ERA season at Triple-A just to get a look – seemed to be hoping that cooler heads prevailed.

"It's one start," he said. "To put that much emphasis on one start is a little much."

News Roundup

  • Mike Cameron set a new team record for home runs by a Mets centerfielder with his 27th long ball of the year, a three-run shot in the sixth inning off of San Diego's Jake Peavy. The homer surpassed Tommie Agee's old club mark, set in 1969.

    After slumping badly earlier this season with a cornucopia of aches and pains, Cameron has adapted to playing through his injuries. He has arguably been the Mets' MVP over the last two months, even though his surge coincided with the team's freefall out of the pennant race.

    "It's a process," Cameron said. "If I wouldn't have bounced back, we'd have some problems. I'm continuing to persevere and do some things to help this ball team win games."

  • Cliff Floyd's painful season continued when he was drilled in the right elbow by a Peavy slider in the third inning, writhing in pain for several moments before finally lumbering down to first base.

    Floyd stayed in the game long enough to pick up an outfield assist in Heilman's shaky fourth inning, but left in the fifth. Precautionary X-rays were negative, and Floyd was administered anti-inflammatories. He didn't know if he would be able to play Tuesday.

    "The last couple of years have really been unbelievable," Floyd said. "You always say that you can't explain it. You always say this is part of the game. But this is ridiculous. …

    "I'm tired of getting hit with balls and coming out of games."


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