MIAMI: Scott Kazmir continues to be one of baseball’s feel-good stories of 2013.
A year ago, Kazmir was laboring for a lowly independent league team in Sugar Land, Texas, trying to relearn his mechanics and find his confidence.
The Indians signed him to a minor-league contract, brought him to major-league spring training and the rest, as they say, is history, even though the story seems like fiction.
On Sunday, Kazmir lifted his record to 7-4 with a 3.89 ERA as the Tribe slipped past the Miami Marlins 2-0 to notch their major league-leading 15th shutout of the season and take the series two games to one.
“I feel like I’m better than I was in the past, when I was pitching well, just because I’m wiser,” Kazmir said. “There are a couple of more pitches I can use, and I’m attacking the strike zone.”
Yan Gomes, who has become Kasmir’s regular catcher, added, “He’s back to where he was, maybe better.”
Kazmir gave up two hits in six innings, a double to Ed Lucas with one out in the first and a single to Christian Yelich with one out in the sixth.
His only other slip-up was yielding two walks in the third inning, but one of those runners was picked off by Gomes. In five innings, Kazmir got the final out on a strikeout.
“He was good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He used his fastball really aggressively, because he didn’t have his best slider. His change-up also helped him. He got a little tired; he was at 102 pitches and out of gas.”
To cap his day, Kazmir singled through the middle in the fifth inning on a 98-mile per hour fastball.
“That’s amazing,” Francona said. “I don’t really know how these guys [pitchers] do that.”
It was Kazmir’s second hit of the season.
“There was a lot of trash talk going on the last couple of days,” Kazmir said. “Actually, it’s been the whole year, so it was nice to get that.”
It seems ages ago that Kazmir made his Tribe debut by giving up six runs and eight hits in 3⅓ innings to the lowly Houston Astros back on April 20.
The Indians won the game in a rout 19-6, but the future looked anything but promising for Kazmir, who allowed two home runs and three doubles while mixing in three walks.
But his ERA was so high, 16.20, that at the very least you knew (thought) that his fortunes had nowhere to go but up. Since that game, his ERA in 19 starts is 3.51.
And that’s only the beginning of the good news for Kazmir. In his past nine starts, he has posted a 1.93 ERA and averaged almost 6⅓ innings per outing. In four of those starts, Kazmir hasn’t given up a run.
When it comes to starting pitching, the Marlins don’t have to feel overmatched against any team. The three pitchers who faced the Tribe — Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi on Sunday — none of whom is older than 23, combined to post a 1.29 ERA and averaged seven innings per appearance.
Eovaldi (2-2, 3.19 ERA) held the Indians to one run and seven hits in seven innings, delivering most of his fastballs at speeds between 96 and 100 miles per hour.
“He has a nice, live arm,” Francona said. “When he got the ball down, there wasn’t much you could do with it.”
The Tribe got to Eovaldi for a run in the second on Gomes’ infield single, Mark Reynolds’ double and Lonnie Chisenhall’s RBI single.
In the eighth, Chad Qualls gave up a leadoff double to Mike Aviles, who was sacrificed to third by Jason Kipnis. One out later Michael Brantley singled Aviles to the plate.
“I thought we played a really good game today,” Francona said. “Brantley had that big hit to give us an extra run, and that play with [Jason] Kipnis and Gomes — things like that get me excited.”
After Kasmir walked Jeff Mathis to start the third, Eovaldi showed bunt, and with the runner straying off first, Kipnis sneaked in behind him and Gomes picked him off.
Reynolds got two hits, including a double to the left-field fence. It might not mean much, then again it might indicate that he is finally is emerging from his three-month slump.
“Good for him,” Francona said. “He’s been fighting it. For him to contribute is big. We all think he’s got that streak in him that can carry the team.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.