PEORIA, Ariz.: Scoreboards can be a pitcher’s best friend, or his worst enemy.
Scott Kazmir said he was encouraged by his performance Saturday, and never mind that in five innings he gave up five runs and 13 hits to the Mariners, who nevertheless, lost a 10-5 decision to the Indians at Peoria Sports Complex.
“I wish the scoreboard looked a lot better for this outing,” he said. “But it’s spring training and I’ve done this before.”
That is, the game and the numbers don’t count. Everything is just for practice.
Yes and no. If Kazmir were a pitcher with a secure job in the rotation, a 13-hit outing would be no big deal. But Kazmir is trying to make the team as the No. 5 starter.
Maybe that’s why he got off to such a shaky start and struggled in his last inning. Maybe Kazmir was trying too hard to make the team, inasmuch as he has only one spring training start remaining.
“It’s difficult, especially when it’s crunch time and one outing can make a difference,” said Kazmir, referring to the difficulty of someone on the bubble concentrating totally on preparing for the season.
“That’s the situation I’m in. I knew that when I came to camp.”
Kazmir came to spring training on a minor-league contract that included an invitation to major-league camp. Carlos Carrasco and maybe even Daisuke Matsuzaka were ahead of Kasmir in the pecking order of starters.
However, Kazmir displayed the most consistency in his spring outings, including exhibition games and games against minor leaguers (one, when he asked to work on a balky breaking pitch).
In six outings (two against minor-leaguers), Kazmir has allowed eight earned runs and 29 hits in 21 innings. He also has struck out 23 and walked only three.
Saturday, Kazmir insisted all he was trying to do was put a fine edge on his fastball, which the Mariners continually hit on the screws. In that regard, the scoreboard was helpful.
When Kelly Shoppach hit a drive that struck the batter’s eye in center, it cleared the padded fence by 20 feet but in this ballpark, a hitter must launch the ball over the 40-50 foot barrier above the wall.
A lack of velocity was not a problem for Kazmir. He mostly threw in the 90-92 mph range, but he also was throwing pitches to hittable areas of the plate.
“Normally I don’t worry about how hard I’m throwing,” Kazmir said. “But today I felt really strong, so I definitely wanted to stay with the game plan [throwing fastballs] and air it out.”
But Kazmir said that’s what hurt his scoreboard numbers. He would throw fastballs in counts and situations that begged for an off-speed pitch or a breaking ball.
“I felt I was throwing a lot of strikes (60 of 85 pitches), but my location was not good. My fastball felt really good for the most part. It almost felt too good; I was overthrowing a little.”
Kazmir started the game by giving up four consecutive hits and two runs before retiring the next three batters, two on strikeouts. His body language revealed that he was extremely upset with himself for the rocky start.
Over the next three innings he gave up five hits but no runs before getting into trouble in the fifth, his final inning, when he allowed a two-run homer to Raul Ibanez.
“I just thought in that last inning, he got a little tired,” manager Terry Francona said. “That’s what happens in spring training.”
Francona didn’t dispute Kazmir’s conclusion that he did what he set out to do, but he didn’t give the performance a ringing endorsement.
“You know what?” the manager said. “It was a weird day. Early on he was fighting to throw all his pitches. Then he found his fastball, then at the end he got a little tired. But I think he looked OK.”
With spring training coming to an end next Saturday, it is time to make decisions, including finalizing the rotation. Matsuzaka has been sent to the minors, and Carrasco, coming off elbow reconstruction surgery, obviously needs more time to sharpen his game.
So does Franco know who he wants to fill the spot?
“No, we have to get clarity on [Carrasco’s suspension],” the manager said. “It’s useless to go through everything and not know. [GM] Chris [Antonetti] is out scouting college players. When he gets back tomorrow, we’ll all meet. I’d like to think we can get things in order as soon as possible.”
Carrasco has a six-game suspension hanging over his head from 2011. It is not going away as far as anyone in the front office has indicated, so that shouldn’t be a factor.
“He’s had a consistent fastball all spring,” Francona said. “The breaking pitch is the thing he has fought, but he’s shown an ability to pitch with his fastball and get swings and misses.”
Francona said those things before Saturday’s game but probably hasn’t changed his mind.
“I feel like I can go out there now and get hitters out,” Kazmir said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that.”
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.