These days, there seems to be no talking about Scott Kazmir without a nod to "the story."
"He's a guy to pull for," Indians manager Terry Francona said Tuesday before the 4-3 loss to the Yankees. "He's been on top of the world and then he kind of fell off and he had to fight his way back."
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Catcher Carlos Santana: "He's very impressive this year. He has a long story."
The story is actually pretty short, and pretty cliché. Phenom pitcher gets hurt, recovers, but loses the bite on his highly touted fastball. After years swatting around in the bowels of baseball, he attempts a comeback.
But before anyone buys the movie rights, it should be known that as with most things in his professional career, Kazmir's path did not run smoothly Tuesday night. The Yankees touched him up for four runs in the third, the Indians' offense did nothing to help his cause for six innings, and he walked off with the loss. His ERA is now 5.24. But there is this: his fastball hit 94 mph, a throwback to his 2008 days, and the zip on his slider was enough to befuddle hitters. He pitched six innings, allowed all his runs in the third, gave up seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts - three of those on 93 and 94 mph fastballs.
Turns out, the hitch in this story is that no one - not even the Indians - really knows if Kazmir has it in him to complete the comeback he's occasionally hinted at.
"I don't really worry about down the line," Francona said before the game. "Expectations tonight are that he'll go out and compete, which he always does . . . I think he's very appreciative of where he's at, so we're seeing, because of that, probably a more mature person, which probably translates into a more mature pitcher."
Santana, who's now caught Kazmir five times this year, said that "with the fastball, he's done very well. It's a wicked pitch . . . when I look at him, he has a lot of control and he throws hard."
Don't forget the story, now.
"...And he was a top player five, six years ago. It makes me happy, because he plays here and he's had to come back."
Despite his status as a work in progress, it looks like Kazmir, 29, will get time to craft the ending of this particular chapter. Francona said Monday that though he's lost the razzle-dazzle of his earlier years, Kazmir "has actually gotten stronger and it's fun to watch. I think he's grown up more and I think you see it on the mound."
He added later: "It's kind of a good story."