Scott Kazmir was scheduled to make his first major league start in nearly two years this Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field but a small strain in his right rib cage muscle which he felt during a side session on Monday has caused the Indians to take the cautious approach and scratch him from his start. He will however be in Tropicana Field with the Indians over the weekend a place he called home for parts of 6 seasons from 2004 to 2009 and where he enjoyed great success posting a record of 55-44 with a 3.92 ERA. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Bastian of MLB.com @MLBastian on Twitter)
Tropicana Field is also the last major league stadium that he posted a victory (video link). On September 19, 2010 he returned to St.Pete for the first time since being traded to the Angels (August 29, 2009 for Sean Rodriguez, Matt Sweeney, and Alex Torres). Despite a 38 pitch first inning he was able to go the requisite 5 innings allowing only a solo homer off the bat of Kelly Shoppach while striking out 4 and walking 2. The victory improved his record to 9-14 and he lowered his ERA to 5.84. He ended the 2010 season on a losing note and his final line was an unimpressive 9-15 with an ERA of 5.94.
His fortunes didn't change in 2011 and after making one start in which he gave up 5R/ER in an 1.2 innings he was sent to the disabled list. He reported to extended spring training where he spent a month before heading to his rehab assignment in which he was 0-5 and allowed 30 runs in 15.1 innings and hit six batters. The Angels paid him $14.5M not to return to their roster and Kazmir was left to wonder if his career was over. The good folks at baseball reference had already put a tombstone up on his player page which remained this way until opening day:
Kazmir worked hard to make it back to the big leagues. He worked on rebuilding his delivery which he admits he had no blueprint:
"I didn’t know how I did it. I just did it," he says. "I didn’t know how I threw hard or anything like that. I just did it and I was successful with it." -
His road back took him to the Independent League's Sugarland Skeeters where he made 14 starts going 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA. He felt he was close to figuring things out while with the Skeeters and even turned down a AAA offer from the St. Louis Cardinals in order to continue making progress. After the season he went to Puerto Rico where he struck out 27 in 22.2 innings and claims to have had his fastball up in the 94-95 mph range.
He received interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, and Pittsburgh Pirates but he signed with the Cleveland Indians whose AA Manager Eduardo Rodriguez was Kazmir's manager in Puerto Rico. When did Terry Francona know that the Indians may have caught a break by signing Kazmir?
"Scarily, the first day when he threw that bullpen [session], We got good reports from Edwin this winter. That's why we signed him. But when you saw him throw, it was like, 'Whoa.' I couldn't wait to see his next couple, just to see if it was like the first day, and he was letting it fly. He kept backing it up. It was really exciting." -
After pitching extremely well in spring training and making the Indians rotation he felt a minor pain in his right ribcage during his side session in Toronto on Monday. The old Scott Kazmir may have remained silent and just tried to pitch through it but after what he has been through he immediately told the training staff.
He was able to throw a complete bullpen session on Wednesday afternoon and felt no pain but immediately afterwards he was sent back to Cleveland for an MRI exam. Indians manager Terry Francona doesn't seem overly concerned saying:
"He did fine. He did well. He probably could've pitched, The kid has worked hard. He made the club. It just didn't seem to make sense to any of us to [have him pitch Saturday]. We were really encouraged by the way he threw. We just didn't think it made sense." - mlb.com
If Kazmir is put on the disabled list he will be eligible to return on April 17th. As a fan of both the Indians and Rays and a sucker for the stories of redemption in major league baseball I am disappointed to have to wait the few more weeks but it will be a joy to see him make that first start. The only negative is that I will not be there to witness it first hand.