SEATTLE: Scott Kazmir spent the first part of the season searching for his footing after more than a year away from the major leagues, a time that included a brief stint in an independent league.
But as his eight-inning, one-hit performance that helped the Indians cruise to a 10-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners proved, the search is over for Kazmir, a veteran left-hander.
“I feel like I found what I’ve been looking for over my past couple starts, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Kazmir said.
The only improvement he could have made was to have a pitch back that Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak lined into shallow left-center field leading off the fifth inning for the only hit off Kazmir.
The hit that spoiled his no-hit bid didn’t seem to bother Kazmir, 29, after the game, nor did his failure to pitch the second complete game of his career.
Kazmir threw just 64 innings last season while trying to get back into the major leagues and had thrown 103 pitches through eight innings, so Indians manager Terry Francona opted against letting Kazmir go back out to start the ninth inning.
“Initially I wanted to go out there, yeah,” Kazmir admitted. “There’s a lot of things that have to go right for a complete game, that’s why it doesn’t happen too often. It’s something that I wanted to do at the time, but at the same time, I’m focused on what I need to do right now — go out and get a quality start each time.”
As simple as that goal sounds, it’s one that was far from a given at this time last season when Kazmir was pitching for the independent league Sugar Land Skeeters.
“It feels like last year has been 10 years ago,” he said. “I feel way better now than I did then. I’m more of a complete pitcher now. I’m not just throwing as hard as I can every single time out there. I have it still, but I’m able to throw it when I need to and am able to use all my secondary pitches to be more of a complete pitcher.”
Kazmir’s manager and teammates have taken notice of his steady growth this season. In his past seven starts, he has a 1.60 ERA.
“Kaz, from the very first inning, [had it going strong],” Francona said. “Usually he works in his velocity, but he had it from the get go and held it through eight innings. That was really impressive.
“He’s been answering the bell every time he’s supposed to pitch. He had a couple rocky starts early on, but he’s been a really good pitcher since. We’re proud of him because he’s come a long way and I think he felt he had a lot to prove. Now, he’s got a lot of baseball left in him.”
After the game, Nick Swisher passed a handful of reporters in the visiting clubhouse and without even being asked, began a conversation by gushing over Kazmir’s most recent impressive performance.
“Kaz was money,” added Indians center fielder Michael Bourn, who helped Kazmir’s cause with a leadoff bunt in the first inning that sparked a three-run inning and hit a grand slam in the fifth inning. “He kept [the ball] down for eight innings. Whenever you get performances like that, man it’s good for your team. If our pitching is like that from here on out, we could be dangerous.”
While Bourn was showering after Wednesday’s game, Indians equipment manager Marty Bokovitz went over to Bourn’s locker and tucked a baseball into the pocket of his travel bag. The ball was the one Bourn hit for his first career grand slam.
“I’ll just put it up at my house at home, probably,” Bourn said. “I don’t know if I’ll display it, but it’ll be somewhere [put away].”
Errors by the bushel
Overshadowed by the big victory were two more errors by the suddenly shaky Indians infield. Errors by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and third baseman Mark Reynolds gave the Indians eight errors on the six-game road trip.
The day before, Francona came as close as he’ll ever get to calling out any of his players by saying the team would hold additional fielding practice today before a seven-game homestand begins against the Texas Rangers. But he stopped short of suggesting the defensive lapses are coming in bunches due to the players pressing.
“I really don’t, I just don’t think we’re playing very clean right now,” Francona said. “I think you get to this point of the year and you’re getting into the grind right now. Good teams buckle down and make plays. And that’s what I think we can be, a good team. We just need to play better.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.