By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Certainly the 15,962 fans at Progressive Field were hoping that Scott Kazmir would return to the mound in the seventh inning if for no other reason than to see his impressive strikeout total increase.
That, of course, is not a good enough reason for a manager to drag out a pitcher’s work day, so Kazmir had to settle for 12 strikeouts in six innings, as the Indians defeated the New York Mets 8-1 Friday night.
“That was perfect,” manager Terry Francona said of Kazmir’s tenure on the mound.
Attendance has become such an issue that it must be noted the total crowd probably numbered at least 22,000, but several thousand customers used this date to exchange their tickets from the May 31 contest that was marred by almost five hours of rain delays.
Kazmir (8-7, 4.17 ERA) struck out the side three times, including the sixth inning, finishing his assignment by striking out the last four batters whom he faced. He headed for the dugout the final time having allowed no runs, four hits and no walks.
All four hits were singles; two never left the infield and one was a flair just out of the reach of Lonnie Chisenhall at third. Only one putout was made by an outfielder, and the only hard-hit ball was a smoking line drive that Kazmir somehow snagged as it whistled past the mound.
Until his mechanics went south almost three years ago, Kazmir was a strikeout pitcher. So did striking out 12 Friday night validate his comeback?
“I guess so,” he said. “I haven’t struck out 12 for a long time. I felt like I could. But to me, this is all about throwing my fastball where I want to consistently.”
Francona thought that Kazmir’s fastball was the key to his successful outing.
“He was really good with the fastball,” Francona said. “He threw strikes; he threw it with power, and he located it.”
For the record: Kazmir’s strikeout total is the most by a Tribe pitcher since Justin Masterson struck out 12 Athletics Sept. 30, 2009. It is the most by a left-handed Indians pitcher since CC Sabathia whiffed 13 in a game against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 14, 2007.
Kazmir recently went through a dead-arm period, and Francona gave him extra days between starts twice hoping he would shake off the fatigue likely to affect a pitcher who hasn’t worked a full season for three years.
“He’s like Ubaldo [Jimenez],” Francona said. “It looks like he’s catching his second wind. And we need him to do that.”
Kazmir was facing the team that drafted him in the first round 11 years ago. Yet he never pitched for the Mets, who traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays, for whom he made his major-league debut.
But Kazmir denied that pitching against the Mets was a motivating factor.
“The front office, the players, everybody is different over there now,” he said. “It might be different if I was pitching against guys I knew and played with.”
Francona thought he detected a little extra flow of adrenaline as he watched Kazmir.
“I think he was a little jazzed up,” Francona said. “However guys do it, as long as they’re not breaking any laws, whatever they use for motivation — I’ll take it.”
The pace of strikeouts diminished after Kazmir left, but Tribe pitchers totaled 15 against the Mets, with Andrew Brown going down on strikes four times and Josh Satin three.
The Tribe offense put runs on the board, mostly one at time, which is infinitely better than none at a time.
Just to get an idea of how difficult scoring has become, the Indians loaded the bases with nobody out in the first inning and scored once, on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Santana.
An error by third baseman Wilmer Flores and Michael Bourn’s sacrifice fly led to an unearned run in the second, and Santana singled home the third run with two-out single in the fifth.
Yan Gomes and Chisenhall conspired to manufacture the fourth run. Gomes led off the sixth with a double and Chisenhall drove him home with another double. The only problem: Chisenhall got thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Holding a substantial lead going into the eighth took some of the edge off Nick Swisher’s grand slam that turned the game into a rout. It was Swisher’s eighth career slam and his 16th homer of the season.
“We stayed away from Perez,” Francona said. “So he’s fresher for tomorrow.”
The homer took a save opportunity away from Chris Perez, who was warming up in the bullpen when Swisher’s drive landed over the wall in left.
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.