When the Cleveland Indians signed Scott Kazmir to a minor-league deal in late December, even his biggest fans would have been (and probably were) highly skeptical about his chances of making the big-league roster.
Like other teams had done for Rich Harden and Brandon Webb in years past, it seemed that the Tribe was simply taking a flyer on a once-great pitcher in the slim hopes that he could regain form.
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Kazmir, 29, hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 2011. His stuff got so bad at the end of 2010 and start of the following season that the Angels opted to release him with a whole $12 million owed. Kazmir went on to post an uninspiring 5.34 ERA and 4.6 BB/9 in 64 innings for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters last season, so there wasn’t much room for optimism when he joined the Tribe this winter.
Now a month into Spring Training, however, Kazmir has surprised everyone and may in fact be the front-runner for the No. 5 spot in the Indians’ rotation come Opening Day, reports Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Francona has offered few hints as to which way he is leaning, if he’s leaning at all. The only clue that he might favor one pitcher over another is his continuous glowing praise for Kazmir, virtually from the first time he threw a ball in camp.
And Kazmir certainly seems like the front-runner, even if one disregards Francona’s tributes.
Kazmir has made three appearances for the Tribe so far this spring, throwing eight shutout innings to go along with eight strikeouts and just one walk.
PitchF/X data isn't available in most spring parks, so there aren't actual numbers (for us) to go on as of yet, but Ocker reports that Kazmir has been sitting consistently at 91-92 miles per hour with his fastball, much improved from the high 80s he was topping out at in his final stint with the Halos. Another reason for Kazmir's success may be the reemergence of his slider, which he largely abandoned in Anaheim.
Kazmir's primary competitors for the final spot in the rotation are Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and fellow reclamation project Daisuke Matsuzaka. Bauer and Matsuzaka have both put up solid numbers as well so far, while Carrasco has struggled in his small eight-inning sample.