Sheldon Ocker

KANSAS CITY, Mo.: Maybe Scott Kazmir will be an answer. He can’t be THE answer, because the Indians have too many questions about their rotation.

But after an erratic Tribe debut last week against the Houston Astros, Kazmir settled down to keep a dangerous Royals lineup in check for five innings, giving up two runs, five hits and two walks.

Unfortunately for Kazmir, he got no support from his offense, and the Royals prevailed 3-2 Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.

“I thought he threw a lot more strikes,” manager Terry Francona said. “He got after it with his fastball. It was good to see.”

Only one pitch cost Kazmir. It was thrown in the second inning after Jeff Francoeur walked with nobody out. Salvador Perez drove Kazmir’s 1-and-0 delivery the opposite way over the wall to right near the line for a two-run homer.

“I’ve never seen a guy do that, hit a ball that far outside, and he got all of it,” Kazmir said. “It was like he was a left-handed batter.”

At the time, the deficit didn’t seem decisive, not with the Indians scheduled to come to bat seven more times. But the homer set off an alarm above Kazmir’s head.

By the time the second inning was over, Kazmir had put five runners on base, though one hit came on an infield single and another on a weak flair to right.

Nevertheless, full grown snowmen are made up of dozens of snowballs, and the situation could have deteriorated for Kazmir. Instead, he retired 10 of the final 13 batters he faced. The Royals who reached did so on an error, an intentional walk and an infield single.

“I threw a lot of pitches in the first two innings,” he said. “I didn’t attack the zone the way I wanted. But I felt better in the third and started attacking the strike zone better. All in all, it was a start I can build on.”

It’s doubtful that anyone in the Tribe hierarchy believed that Kazmir would go from an independent league starter in the Texas suburb of Sugarland last year to Cy Young Award winner this year. But Kazmir showed marked improvement from his first start, when he gave up six runs in 3? innings, cutting his ERA in half to 8.64.

“He held his velocity with the fastball,” Francona said. “When he needed more, he went and got it.”

When Doc Edwards managed the Indians, he occasionally took out a starter who seemed to have the wherewithal to continue to get batters out. But sometimes the manager had other priorities.

“I want the pitcher to leave with a good feeling,” Edwards would say.

Maybe that had something to do with Francona removing Kazmir after 99 pitches. If that helped the pitcher’s confidence over the long haul, all the better.

As far as vanquishing the Royals, it really didn’t matter how many more batters Kazmir could have retired, the Tribe offense was rendered almost embarrassingly impotent.

The Tribe had two legitimate chances to put a number on the scoreboard against Ervin Santana and failed miserably. Over the years, Santana has a tendency to dominate or be dominated, usually depending on his command of the strike zone.

Saturday night, Santana worked seven scoreless innings and gave up six hits but no walks.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen him good more often than not,” Francona said. “He established his fastball for strikes so well. When he does that, you have to respect everything else. His arm is tremendous.”

In 2009, when he was with the Los Angeles Angels, he pitched a no-hitter against the Indians but coming into Saturday night’s game, his career record against them was 2-8.

On the other hand, the lineup Santana was facing had an aggregate batting average against him of .203 (Drew Stubbs had never batted against him).

The Tribe had runners on second and first with one out in the second inning, but Mark Reynolds and Lonnie Chisenhall struck out.

In the third, Nick Swisher bounced into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

Against Kelvin Herrera in the eighth, Michael Brantley led off with a double and took third on a wild pitch but never scored.

Finally in the ninth, Reynolds’ infield hit and an error by Eric Hosmer at first set the stage for the Indians’ only rally, as Brantley tripled off Greg Holland to drive in both runs.

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.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.