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Scott Kazmir is sharp against Angels, his former team

Cleveland Indians left-hander, released by the Angels after a disastrous 2011 season, gives up three hits over four innings in a scoreless Cactus League game.

March 12, 2013|By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times
  • Indians pitcher Scott Kazmir pitched four scoreless innings against the Angels on Monday.
Indians pitcher Scott Kazmir pitched four scoreless innings against the… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — — The last time the Angels saw Scott Kazmir, the former All-Star left-hander was a physical and mental wreck.

He pitched one game — well, nearly two innings — in April 2011, giving up five runs and five hits, walking two, hitting two and committing a balk. And things didn't get any better in the minors, where Kazmir gave up 30 runs in 15 1/3 innings, leading the Angels to release him with more than $8 million left on his contract.

Kazmir was back on the mound at an Angels game Monday, only this time he was pitching against them. Still it was clear many of his former teammates were rooting for him just the same.

"I wished him luck and congratulations on getting back," said Angels starter Jered Weaver, who exchanged text messages with Kazmir. "He's worked his butt off to get back to where he is. He looked good out there.

"It's good to see him back. He's a good guy."

Exactly where he has gotten back to isn't clear. A nonroster invitee to the Cleveland Indians' camp, Kazmir is one of five pitchers competing for the final spot in the team's rotation. And he certainly helped his cause Monday, holding the Angels to three hits over four innings in a scoreless Cactus League game. It ran Kazmir's scoreless streak to a team-best 11 innings and he also leads the staff with 13 strikeouts.

"There's no doubt you want Scott to do well," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "What he went through for a year and a half with us was absolutely just awful. He felt that he tried everything and just couldn't find it.

"If today's any indication, hopefully he took a step forward."

After being let go by the Angels, Kazmir returned home to Texas and tried to put his career back together.

"I had time to take a step back and go back to the drawing board and kind of figure out what came naturally to me," said Kazmir, who made 14 starts for the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League last summer. "With time off, it really helped me out. I was able to correct myself."

Kazmir, 29, would not be specific about what changes he made, saying only that they were mostly mechanical. But his fastball has gained 10 mph, consistently reaching the lower to mid-90s. As a result, he said he's not the same pitcher he was when the Angels last saw him.

"Night and day difference," he said. "Just a completely different pitcher."

Arms limits

Closer Ryan Madson pitched off a mound for the first time in six weeks, throwing 20 pitches in a bullpen session.

Madson, signed as a free agent in November after sitting out last season after Tommy John surgery, said he threw only fastballs at about half speed.

"It was just nice and easy, just to get back up on the hill," Madson said.

Reliever Sean Burnett, who is also on the mend, threw about 25 pitches to five batters Sunday and said his sore back is fine. Burnett could make his spring debut with the Angels on Wednesday.

Minor moves

The Angels assigned right-hander A.J. Schugel to minor league camp and optioned left-hander Brandon Sisk to triple-A Salt Lake and outfielder Travis Witherspoon to double-A Arkansas. That leaves the Angels with 50 players in big league camp.

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