CLEVELAND (AP) — At this time a year ago, Scott Kazmir wasn’t pitching anywhere — not even for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
“I don’t think about that anymore,” Kazmir said. “It’s too stressful.”
He’s in a much better place now.
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Kazmir continued his remarkable comeback story Friday night, pitching seven strong innings and Jason Kipnis drove in three runs, leading the Cleveland Indians to a 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
Kazmir (4-4) gave up five hits, including a leadoff homer to Brian Dozier in the sixth. The left-hander, who had expected ups and downs and entered the season winless since 2010, struck out seven, including five in his final two innings.
He has been a pleasant addition for the Indians, who signed him during the winter after he pitched in the independent Atlantic League last season.
“I’m happy for him,” Indians first baseman Mark Reynolds said. “You know, being out of baseball, playing independent ball and finding his way back. It’s just a great story. I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s been able to throw strikes all year. He may get hit around a little bit, but he just keeps pounding the zone.”
Kipnis hit a sacrifice fly — to the second baseman — off Samuel Deduno (3-2) in the third and added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won their third straight and seventh in nine games since losing eight in a row.
The Twins came in riding a three-game winning streak. They homered four times in an 8-4 win Thursday to complete a sweep of the Chicago White Sox.
But Kazmir, who hadn’t won since May 30, cooled Minnesota off.
“It seemed like he got better when he got guys on base,” Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. “We were one hit away a couple of times. Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t. Today we didn’t.”
Kazmir blanked the Twins on three hits over the first five innings before Dozier opened the sixth with his seventh homer to cut Cleveland’s lead to 2-1.
Dozier turned on a 1-0 pitch and belted it into the bleachers in left. Kazmir regrouped and struck out Joe Mauer, got Ryan Doumit on a grounder and fanned Josh Willingham looking to preserve the lead.
Kazmir was in trouble in the seventh, when he appeared to hurt himself on a 3-1 pitch to Trevor Plouffe. Indians manager Terry Francona and trainer Lonnie Soloff quickly came to the mound to visit the starter, who told them “I’m all right,” but then gave up a double on his next pitch.
But with Cody Allen warming up in the bullpen and Francona inching his way toward the dugout steps, Kazmir struck out Oswaldo Arcia and Clete Thomas to end the inning.
It was a much-needed outing for Kazmir, who had felt good in his previous three starts but acknowledged trying to throw too hard got him in trouble. He’s not where he was as a two-time All-Star with Tampa Bay (2006, 2008), but the 29-year-old believes he’s getting back to his previous form.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “I took a big step in the direction with this start.”
Francona expected there would be some peaks and valleys for Kazmir, and during the pitcher’s recent slide encouraged him to stay positive.
“If we thought he would get through the whole year without some hiccups, that’s probably unrealistic,” Francona said. “This was more of the guy that we expect to see. He bounced back and pitched a really good game.”
The Indians chased Deduno and added three runs in the seventh on Drew Stubbs’ RBI single and Kipnis’ blooper to left.
Mark Reynolds singled and Deduno walked Lonnie Chisenhall before he was replaced by Josh Roenicke, who got one out but gave up Stubbs’ run-scoring hit. Brian Duensing came on and got one out and walked Mike Aviles to load the bases before Kipnis dropped a soft single over shortstop Jamey Carroll’s head to make it 5-1.
Cleveland went up 2-0 in the third on a play scored as a rare sacrifice fly to second.
Stubbs singled leading off and went to third on Michael Bourn’s single. With one out, Kipnis hit a flair to shallow center that second baseman Dozier ran down and caught behind the bag, but dropped as he was transferring the ball from his glove. Stubbs alertly stayed on the base, tagged and dashed home.
“That was an unbelievable piece of base running,” Francona said. “He has no business scoring right there. The instincts to go on that and have the speed to match.”
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the second on Reynolds’ RBI single.
Notes: Indians 1B Nick Swisher took batting practice and could return to the lineup Saturday after missing five games with a sore left shoulder. . . . Mourneau entered the series with 105 career RBI against the Indians, his most against any club. . . . The Twins have homered in six straight games. . . . Former Indians All-Star center fielder Kenny Lofton threw a ceremonial first strike to Sandy Alomar. . . . The Indians will induct former GM John Hart and All-Star 2B Carlos Baerga into their Hall of Fame on Saturday. Cleveland won two AL pennants and five straight AL Central titles under Hart.