Angels designated hitter Bobby Abreu, center, congratulates outfielder… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The Angels don't need Scott Kazmir to lead the league in strikeouts, like he did when he whiffed 239 batters for Tampa Bay in 2007. They don't need him to win 20 games or compile a sub-3.50 earned-run average.
As the fifth starter on a team with four very good ones — Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro — Kazmir needs to pitch well enough to give the Angels a chance to win and long enough to prevent the bullpen from being overworked every fifth game.
The left-hander didn't go deep into Tuesday night's 5-1 exhibition victory by the Angels over the Dodgers in Angel Stadium, throwing only 49 pitches in 41/3 innings, though that was by design.
But it was the best and most efficient outing of the spring for Kazmir, who gave up one run and three hits, including Rod Barajas' home run in the third, walked one and struck out none.
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It couldn't have come at a better time. Kazmir, who was 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA last season, was 0-2 with a 7.79 ERA in five spring starts, giving up 23 hits, walking 12 and striking out 10 in 171/3 innings.
Speculation was already mounting that if Kazmir's struggles continued in April, the Angels would have little choice but to release him and swallow the $14.5 million left on his contract.
Kazmir may have muted such talk, at least for this week.
"I felt good, it was a good tuneup," Kazmir said. "I'm just trying to stay focused, trying to get better every time out there."
Kazmir's fastball topped out at 89 mph, still down from his 93-mph range of a few years ago, but he changed speeds and located well and induced two double-play grounders.
"For his own confidence, it's never going to hurt to pitch like that," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "The way he pitched tonight, we feel he can do that every time he takes the ball."
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Matt Palmer worked 12/3 hitless innings for the Angels, and relievers Rich Thompson, Michael Kohn and Jordan Walden each threw one inning.
Torii Hunter drove in four runs with two singles against starter Hiroki Kuroda and a two-run home run against Scott Elbert in the fifth inning.
The Angels made their final cuts after the game, and there were no surprises. Jason Bulger edged out Francisco Rodriguez for the final bullpen spot, and infielder Brandon Wood, outfielder Chris Pettit and catcher Hank Conger made the team as reserves.
The team will open the season with four starting pitchers; Pineiro will open on the disabled list but is scheduled to pitch the April 8 home opener.
Seven relievers fill out an 11-man staff: Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen, Hisanori Takahashi, Walden, Kohn, Thompson and Bulger. Left-hander Scott Downs (broken left big toe) will open on the DL.
The projected infield of first baseman Mark Trumbo, second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Erick Aybar and third baseman Maicer Izturis, will be backed up by Alberto Callaspo and Wood, who can play third, short or first.
A calf injury to reserve outfielder Reggie Willits opened a spot for Pettit, who will back up Hunter, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Abreu. Conger will join catchers Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson on the roster.