CLEVELAND: The Indians scored a bunch more runs Saturday, beating the Minnesota Twins 7-3 at Progressive Field. So what else is new?
Just this: the Tribe has won six in a row, averaging almost nine runs a game, and for the first time since April 4, the club is over .500 (14-13).
But enough about the hitters. Their recent achievements have tended toward the flamboyant, obscuring the equally important work of the rotation, which has been unpredictable, mostly not in a good way.
The Indians need four consistent starters if they are to keep the Detroit Tigers in view. One of the bigger question marks was the workmanship of Scott Kazmir, who until April 20 had not pitched in the major leagues since April 3, 2011, when he was with the Los Angeles Angels.
Until Saturday, Kazmir had not won a big-league game since Sept. 19, 2010, for the Tampa Bay Rays. But if Kazmir can give the Tribe what he did against the Twins, it will fill a gaping hole in the rotation.
“He loves to pitch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He wants so bad to make this work. He’s dedicated himself to that.”
Kazmir’s history makes him a candidate for comeback player of the year, if he can come back.
His is a strange story. Kazmir did not suffer a significant injury; he just forgot how to pitch, how to manage the movements necessary to execute a windup and a delivery.
It took a couple of months in Sugarland, Texas, last year, pitching in an independent league stocked with players who didn’t have the talent to make it in the low minors.
“I had no clue,” Kazmir said. “I didn’t think it would come to me this fast. Last year, I was just thinking that I was slowly working my way back.”
In his first start for the Tribe, Kazmir couldn’t stay in the game for five innings to qualify for a win, even though his teammates gave him 15 runs to work with. In his second start, Kazmir gave up two runs in five innings but was charged with the loss.
Asked if he’s a better pitcher now than he was five years ago, when he went 12-8 for the Rays, Kazmir said, “Better now for sure. Through everything, I’ve had to be mentally tough. It used to be I’d give up a hit, and it might affect me for the next batter.
“Now, I’m more mature. When you’re young, you want to be perfect, but if something happens, things just snowball.”
On Saturday against the Twins, Kazmir yielded two runs, five hits and a walk, and struck out seven in six innings to earn the victory.
He struggled early, but found his command and struck out five of the last 11 batters he faced.
“This is something I hoped for,” Kazmir said. “It feels like everything is getting easy to get consistent with my delivery. It feels like every outing is getting better.”
Kazmir’s biggest problem Saturday was getting through the second inning. He gave up a leadoff double to Trevor Plouffe but retired the next two batters on an infield pop fly and a strikeout. But he walked Aaron Hicks and gave up an RBI single to Pedro Florimon before getting the third out.
Could have been worse.
“Other than the second inning, when he had 35 or 36 pitches, he used nine, 10, 14, 11 and faced only one guy over the minimum,” Francona said. “I thought he really pitched. He started throwing his fastball inside, and that opened up the plate for all his other pitches.”
The Indians hit two more home runs to maintain their hold on second place in the American League. Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher both went deep with nobody on in the first inning to give Kazmir a quick lead.
Kipnis, who was among the coldest of the cold the first three weeks of the season, is 8-for-22 (.364) in his past five games with two triples and two home runs.
He delivered a triple and single Saturday, in addition to the home run, getting two more RBI to run his total over the past five games to seven.
“I think he’s just settling into the season,” Francona said. “What he’s really doing is playing the game, and what happens is that you’ll see all aspects of his game.”
Kipnis has stolen three bases and delivered a crucial RBI bunt single the past five games.
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.