PHOENIX: It wasn’t exactly the Final Four, more like the Anxious Four.
There is one vacant spot in the Indians’ rotation, and four of the contenders for that job fired their opening salvos Sunday, as the Tribe played the Brewers and the Reds.
Or maybe it’s overly dramatic to characterize the outings of Carlos Carrasco, Scott Kazmir and Trevor Bauer at Maryvale Ballpark and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s start at Goodyear Ballpark as the beginning of a pitched battle.
Manager Terry Francona certainly didn’t think so.
“I really don’t,” he said. “It’s way too early. These guys are just getting their innings in. There’s a lot of spring left to go.”
Players are taught to avoid thinking about their competitors and focus on preparing for the season. Of course, it’s impossible not to be keenly aware that you and the guy dressing two lockers away are trying to win the same roster spot. But players almost always say the right thing.
Asked about the fact that three contenders for the rotation all were pitched against the Brewers, Bauer said “It never occurred to me. Hey, they said you’re going out to pitch two innings Sunday, and I thought, ‘cool.’ I just try to pitch as well as I can and let them make the decision.”
Carrasco started the game and seemed a little too amped up. That is not surprising inasmuch he is coming off elbow reconstruction surgery and hasn’t pitched in a major-league game since Aug. 3, 2011.
He gave up four runs (three earned), four hits and one walk in one inning. There were mitigating circumstances. All of the Brewers’ hits were ground balls, and Carlos Santana and minor-league outfielder Tim Fedroff committed errors behind him.
Still, it was obvious that Carrasco was not throwing the way he can.
“The ball wasn’t coming out [of his hand] the way it did in his bullpens,” Francona said, allowing that Carrasco probably was generating far too much adrenalin.
“Being out there for the first time felt a little weird,” Carrasco said. “I was just trying to find the strike zone. I was too excited today. My arm was dropping down; I was trying to find the right release point.
“But everything was good. I threw my fastball, slider and change-up. The most important thing is I felt good, my arm felt great.”
Carrasco had been thinking about his first outing for awhile.
“They told me last week that I would get one inning today, and I started to worry in my mind,” he said. “I had to come down a little. I was a little nervous.”
Carrasco is the early favorite to win the final spot in the rotation, but the issue is far from settled.
Kazmir has been struggling to rediscover his delivery since 2008. Last year he pitched for an independent league team in Sugarland, Texas, a suburb of Houston, where he lives.
“The manager there, Gary Gaetti, reached out to me,” Kazmir said. “It was a good place for me to sort out my mechanical problems.”
Kazmir didn’t dominate, posting a 3-6 record and 5.34 ERA in 14 starts, but he found what he was looking for.
“The trouble started in 2008, when I had a triceps injury,” he said. “I was coming back from that and pulled a groin then started to compensate with my mechanics. Things that I could always do, I just couldn’t do anymore. I felt like I knew what to do, but I needed repetitions to get the feel back.”
That’s where playing for Sugarland helped.
On Sunday, Kazmir delivered two strong innings, giving up one hit and striking out one.
“He threw free and easy without a lot of effort,” Francona said.
Bauer also threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out two.
“He looked pretty good, and Carlos [Santana] did a good job with him,” Francona said. “I was kind of impressed.”
Bauer seemed satisfied with the outing.
“I was just happy to throw strikes,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘Please let this go over the plate.’ It was kind of a weird feeling, because it was the first time. But I enjoyed being out there.”
Matsuzaka was back in Goodyear facing the Reds. He threw two hitless innings, walking one.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.