Though the point can be made that it’s not really an evolution if it’s a rebirth. Because what Scott Kazmir is doing this season — reinventing and “re-birthing” his career.
One year removed from the Sugarland Skeeters of the Independent League, Kazmir had a strong outing in beating the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
Kazmir pitched seven innings, gave up just one run, struck out seven and walked one. Forty of his 55 first pitches were strikes.
After giving up 13 runs in 14 2/3 innings his last three starts, Kazmir found himself by taking a step back. Puzzled at the lack of results when he said he had felt better than he had in a long time, Kazmir and pitching coach Mickey Callaway went to the video. He saw it was more approach than mechanics.
“I think I felt so good I wanted to throw it by everyone,” Kazmir said.
Which won’t work. As Kazmir said, any major league hitter can hit a fastball if he knows it’s coming.
So Kazmir decided to quit trying to overpower and start pitching more.
“When I’m able to work both sides of the plate, stay in control and be able to use all my pitches it’s a little bit easier to go out and be able to get quick outs,” he said.
And that’s what he did against the Twins. On a night when Drew Stubbs scored on a sacrifice fly to the second baseman and Mark Reynolds showed reason for hope by lining two balls off the wall, Kazmir was fast, efficient and good.
“I think we’ve seen him maybe have more life on his ball, but he pitched to both sides,” Francona said. “He was economic. He had no real long innings. He worked ahead.”
Kazmir sent down six of the seven first hitters he faced. The only one he didn’t was Brian Dozier, who homered on the first pitch of the sixth. In the seventh, Kazmir got the first out when he struck out Justin Morneau, but in doing so came off the mound awkwardly on one pitch. That brought the Indians out to check on him.
He said he felt fine, then gave up a double. But Francona left him in to face two lefties, and he got both staring at strike three.
“To be able to stay a little under control, and when I need that fastball — two-strike count or something — I’m able to use and it looks like a different pitch,” Kazmir said.
Kazmir’s evolution should not be a surprise given his career was nearly in tatters. After receiving a late, minor-league invitation to spring training, Kazmir took advantage to win a spot in the rotation. But he has just four quality starts in 12, and has had a yo-yo season: One tough start, three good ones. Two tough starts, two good ones. Three tough ones, and the latest good one.
It’s not surprising given he is working his way back and trying to develop his pitches as he does, but the bottom line from the last four starts is that Kazmir felt good about himself, his delivery and his stuff.
Kazmir seemed almost confused he wasn’t getting better results when he felt so good.
“It bothers me,” Kazmir said. “I’m a competitor. It really bothers me.”
“I tried to tell him, ‘Hey man we’re in this for the long haul,” Francona said. “If we thought he would get through the whole year without any hiccups, that’s unrealistic. I think this was more the guy we expected to see.”
Kazmir’s importance can’t be understated. The Indians are 4-0 in his quality starts. Overall, they have won three in a row and seven-of-nine, and in their last 11 games the starters have a 2.83 ERA. The team’s record in those 11: 7-4.
Clearly there is a correlation between good starting pitching and winning.
Just as clearly, there is a correlation between wins and Kazmir getting back to the guy he once was.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “Took a big step in the right direction this start, that’s for sure.”