Scott Kazmir is back — and he’s brought his old stuff from the mid-2000s with him to Spring Training, too.
Monday’s Cactus League game between the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels would probably have been right at home in an episode of the Twilight Zone involving time travel and parallel universes. There he was, the former Tampa Bay Rays ace on the mound for the Indians, taking on an Angels team that unceremoniously dumped him in the summer of 2011 after just 1.2 innings of work.
If there was ever an opportunity to exact a little bit of revenge, this was it.
The lefty took full advantage of that opportunity, shutting out the Angels bats for four full innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out four. These weren’t exactly the Angels’ B-players either — the 29 year old had to contend with the likes of Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo, who managed just a single between the two of them while striking out twice.
The whiffs are especially encouraging, considering the fact that Kazmir is on his way to posting his best K/9 in Spring Training since his Tampa Bay days.
Much of that can probably be attributed to his velocity. One of the major reasons of his decline was the fact that he’d lost the heat on his fastball over the years, going from a 93.7 mph average to start his season and ending his last full season at a career-low 90.5.
It turn him into a contact pitcher (67.5 percent contact in 2004, 82.3 percent in 2010) and destroyed his swinging strike rate in the process, which is exactly why he’s pitching on a minor league deal as a guy fighting for a job rather than a 29-year old that should be well in the middle of his prime.
Well, fortunately for the Indians, the latter is exactly what he’s looking like these days:
Scott Kazmir was really good in 4 shutout IP for Indians today. 89-93, P inside, delivery restored.
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 11, 2013
Kazmir is currently in the middle of a competition for the final spot on the Indians rotation along with fellow reclamation project Daisuke Matsuzaka, Carlos Carrasco, and top prospect Trevor Bauer — and the southpaw is handily out-pitching all of them so far.
In fact, Kazmir has arguably out-pitched essentially the entire Indians pitching crew this spring, putting together eight perfect Cactus League innings with eight strikeouts, and tacking on three more scoreless innings of five-strikeout ball in a B-game.
The Indians, who really have some major questions to answer in the pitching department in 2013, had hoped to find a diamond in the rough with one of their shot-in-the-dark minor league acquisition.
Now throwing up to 93 mph and looking more and more like the ace he used to be, Kazmir is quickly showing the team — with a near-flawless spring campaign thus far — that they may have found one.