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Scott Kazmir impresses Indians in comeback
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Incredibly, Scott Kazmir is only 29.
Out of baseball last season after a dizzying fall from pitching stardom, Kazmir has returned to the majors this season, or at least a major-league camp, with an invite from the Indians.
The Mets selected Kazmir with the 15th overall pick in the 2002 draft, then traded him to the Rays for Victor Zambrano in one of the worst deals in franchise history. A decade later, Kazmir feels a bit like a rookie again, if only because his past is like something from a different lifetime.
“It really does,” Kazmir said Wednesday morning at the Indians complex. “Just being away from the game for a year and a half, it just seemed like an eternity. It really did. It definitely will humble you, I’ll tell you that.”
Kazmir was released by the Angels in 2011 after only one start, despite being owed $12 million. He was supposed to be finished. But after climbing his way back through the Independent League last season and winter ball in Puerto Rico, Kazmir is now impressing the Indians. In Wednesday’s B game, Kazmir’s fastball topped out at 92-93 mph and he mowed through the minor-league hitters.
“I’m still amazed at how free and easy the ball comes out of his hand,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There wasn’t a lot of effort there. I remember back in the early days of [the Rays], he’d get it and fire it. There were days he went right through us. He might have had one of the best lefthanded sliders in the game.
“He’s a little different pitcher now -- probably more of a pitcher, I think he understands himself better. I asked him who he worked with, because I was impressed, and he just said, ‘No, I just kind of stepped back and looked at things.’ Sounds like he kind of grew up a little bit.”
The Indians are very much in the evaluation stage with Kazmir, who is hoping to earn a back-end spot in the rotation. If not, there could be plenty of other interest. Roughly a dozen scouts were positioned behind the backstop for Kazmir’s B game, so there’s plenty of attention out there.
“He’s in great shape,” Francona said. “The interesting thing from where we sit is to see where he goes from the beginning of camp. Does he hold his stuff? Does he get better? Does it back off because he hasn’t pitched?
“Because I would say at the beginning of camp, if you had played a game that day he could have gone out there with the stuff that he had and won. That’s how impressive he was.”