CLEVELAND: Just when everyone in Wahoo Nation was practically certain that Scott Kazmir wasn’t a guy whose autograph they craved, he got up off the mat and delivered a skillful performance.
In beating the Twins 5-1 Friday night at Progressive Field, Kazmir pitched seven strong innings, giving up the run on five hits but walking none. He struck out seven, including five of the final eight batters he faced.
Moreover, he threw only 95 pitches. The Twins seemed so anxious to swing early in the count, the strategy must have been the essence of their game plan. Or maybe they were in a hurry to get to the Horseshoe Casino.
“I thought he really pitched,” manager Terry Francona said. “He worked both sides of the plate; he was economical and had no real long innings. He worked ahead in the count and got the lefties out.”
Kazmir (4-4, 5.37 ERA) put one runner on base in each of the first three innings, but only one. And after Jamey Carroll doubled with one out in the third, Kazmir retired eight of the next nine batters. It would have been nine for nine, but Jason Kipnis’ error allowed Clete Thomas to reach first with two out in the fifth.
In Kazmir’s previous three starts, he gave up 13 runs in 8⅔ innings. In the two games before that, he yielded only three runs in 12 innings. And in the two before that, he allowed nine runs in eight innings. And in the … you get the idea.
“My last one [of the past three] was the only one that was really rough,” Kazmir said. “Looking back on it, there was some stuff I wanted to clear up. In my last three or four starts, I’ve felt so good that I want to throw it by everybody.”
But Kazmir knows that’s not the way to succeed in the big leagues.
“These guys can hit any fastball if they know it’s coming and it’s in a hitter’s location,” he said.
So Kazmir can’t throw one fastball after another to the exclusion of his other weapons, which is what Francona meant by “pitching.”
In 12 starts, Kazmir has performed capably in six and not so much in the other six. There hasn’t been much of a pattern to it either way. One explanation is that after a long absence from pitching in a rotation every five days — not counting his experience in an independent league last year — it’s going to take awhile before he regains his consistency.
It’s human nature to want to shortcut the process, but Kazmir knows he will have to throw X number of innings and X number of pitches before he has everything in order.
“It’s been the same two or three things I need to do the whole year,” he said. “It’s going to take time and reps to cement my delivery.”
When Kazmir becomes frustrated, Francona talks to him.
“I try to tell him we’re in it for the long haul,” the manager said. “But this [night] is more of what we expected to see. I think he’s held his stuff all year.”
Kazmir credits the time when he was totally out of organized baseball last year, that is, pitching for an independent league team, for giving him the opportunity to put his mechanics back together after no big-league organization wanted him.
“I don’t think about that anymore,” he said. “It’s too stressful. I’ve blocked it out.
“It bothered me. I’m competitive. I want to be successful every time, but there are going to be times when I’m going to be a little shaky.”
The Tribe couldn’t generate much offense off Samuel Deduno (3-2, 3.72 ERA). For six innings, he limited the Indians to one run in the second on Mark Reynolds’ RBI single and one in the third on a sacrifice fly to second baseman Brian Dozier.
How did that work? With Drew Stubbs on third, Michael Bourn on first and one out, Kipnis lifted a pop fly to the right side. Dozier retreated, gloved the ball then dropped it.
The umpire ruled that Dozier had made a legal catch but lost the ball trying to transfer it from his glove to his hand. But Stubbs had to break for the plate at a precise instant or be thrown out.
“That was an unbelievable piece of base running by Stubbs,” Francona said. “He had no business scoring on that.”
The Tribe scored three runs in the seventh to wrap up the win, with Kipnis’ flair just over the shortstop’s glove driving in two runs.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.