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Kazmir May Need to be Cavalry for Beleaguered Rotation

Kazmir May Need to be Cavalry for Beleaguered Rotation

| On 19, Apr 2013

On December 21, the Indians made what was perceived to be a move of little consequence. On that day, the team signed Scott Kazmir to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training. More often than not, those signings usually result in the player being released or sent to Triple-A. The Kazmir deal was perceived by Tribe fans to be just that.

When Cleveland took a flier on the 29-year-old former All-Star, it was nothing more than a shot at adding depth to a suspect starting pitching rotation. Out of Major League Baseball since the beginning of the 2011 campaign, Kazmir seemed more likely to be an emergency arm should things go horribly wrong for other pitchers.

Fast forward now four months. Kazmir had a better spring than anyone could have ever imagined. The southpaw actually beat out other major-league-experienced hurlers, like David Huff and Carlos Carrasco, for the fifth spot in the Indians rotation. If not for a rib cage injury suffered on Apr. 1, Kazmir would have started against his former Tampa Bay Rays team on the Apr. 6 along with making another appearance or two.

The lefty is expected to come off the disabled list on Saturday and make his first Indians start that night in Houston. He pitched five innings in a Triple-A rehab assignment on Tuesday. He shut down the Louisville Bats, surrendering no runs on five hits, while striking out five and walking none. He did that on 62 pitches, throwing 41 of those for strikes. Kazmir then threw another 13 pitches in the bullpen to take his number up to 75. He seemingly picked up where he left off when he had his dominant Cactus League go-round. Provided he feels no pain between, Kazmir will be on the hill tomorrow evening in Houston.

Cleveland should welcome the veteran with open arms. Instead of being an offseason afterthought, Kazmir may well now be crucial to the Tribe’s postseason hopes.

Between ineffectiveness, injuries and suspensions, the Indians pitching rotation has been a jumbled up mess in the season’s first two weeks. Ace Justin Masterson and second-year pitcher Zach McAllister have been the lone bright spots. Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful in his past two starts. Offseason pickup Brett Myers has been roughed up, as well. Myers has had issues keeping batters in the ballpark, already surrendering eight home runs. Then there is Carrasco who began the year with a six-game suspension for throwing at Kansas City’s Billy Butler in 2011. He is back in the minors and will have to serve another eight-game punishment for the same crime in his lone outing of the season last week against the Yankees. Rookie phenom Trevor Bauer‘s lone Tribe start was promising, but he also showed he is not quite ready for the big time.

Kazmir has a chance to step right in and settle the pitching staff to some degree. Cleveland needs more than just two pitchers it can rely on. At this point, to think Jimenez can do it is a bit foolhardy.  He has been less than stellar for more than two years now. Myers could still turn things around as his start Sunday was not bad. He will need to have several more starts like that, however, before he convinces many people that he can be counted on.

In that regard, you could actually call Kazmir the cavalry. Barring an unexpected trade, no one else new will be coming to town any time soon. Kazmir will now be counted on to pump some new life and energy into a rotation that severely needs it. He would also break up the constant line of right handers the Indians keep putting on the mound, forcing opposing managers to tinker with their lineups every fifth day. There is hope that he can deliver.  Kazmir has done and said everything well since putting on an Indians jersey.

Of course, there is also some worry with Kazmir. He has not pitched a regular season, major league game since Apr. 2011. That day, with the Angels, he was rocked for five runs in one and two-third innings. A former All-Star, he has not pitched anywhere near that caliber for a full season since 2009.

No one expects Kazmir to be an All-Star as he was in 2006 and 2008. The hope is he will be more consistent than a lot of what the Tribe has had to this point. If he can have an ERA hovering around 4.00, that should be good enough to win games once the Cleveland offense hits its full stride.

The Indians, at this point, need Kazmir to deliver. There is no guarantee that he will. There is the hope that he will and that is more than enough right now for staring-pitching-starved Tribe.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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