Decision Day in Goodyear

KazmirWhen lefty Scott Kazmir arrived to the Indians’ complex on Monday, and was asked to stop by manager Terry Francona’s office, the pitcher was not sure which direction the conversation was going to go.

Kazmir hoped he’d earned his way into the rotation, but he knows as well as anyone how the business side of baseball can often work.

“I really didn’t know, to be honest with you,” Kazmir said. “I’d like to say I thought I did enough, or I felt like I’ve proven enough, but anything can happen, it really could.”

Kazmir smiled.

“I’m just happy I’m in the situation I’m in now.”

On Monday, Kazmir was named Cleveland’s fifth starter. This is a comeback tale that will be interesting to follow this season. If the lefty can be anything remotely close to the pitcher he was in the past, the Indians caught a break here. And it’s not like they’re asking him to be their ace. He’s the fifth man, being offered a chance to resurrect his career.

Kazmir was on top of the baseball world a few years ago. He led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 and was a rising star in the game. Then came the health issues, and the subsequent mechanical problems, and the trade to the Angels, and lost velocity, and eventually, his release.

Last year, Kazmir pitched with the Sugar Land Skeeters in the Independent Atlantic League. He couldn’t get a big league job. After pitching for Sugar Land, and working overtime during the winter to get back into prime shape, and then pitching in Puerto Rico for manager Edwin Rodriguez (a manager in Cleveland’s farm system), Kazmir caught his break with the Tribe.

They gave him a Minor League deal and he responded by being the team’s most consistent starter this spring. His velocity was back to 92-92 mph (topping at 93-94) after dropping to the mid- to low-80s a couple years ago. He has more pitches now.

Most importantly, Kazmir has a spot back in the Majors.

“It’s a really great story,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. “As we told Scott when we met with him, he deserves a ton of credit. He overcame a lot of adversity. He went to the Independent league last year and tried to rework his delivery and get back to the point of being a competitive pitcher.

“He carried that forward in winter ball and came into camp, really from Day 1, ready to go. He impressed from his first bullpen all the way through his last outing. He deserves a lot of credit for the work he put in.”

Kazmir knows his work isn’t done, either.

“I feel like the way I’ve progressed over the last couple of years,” he said, “and the way I’ve progressed during Spring Training, it’s only going to get better. I really feel that way. It’s exciting. It’s exciting to feel that way and to be that confident, but I truly believe it.”

Throughout his sit-down with reporters, the 29-year-old Kazmir spoke softly and seemed relaxed. He said, inside, he was far from it.

“It’s kind of hard to even collect my thoughts right now,” he said. “With everything that’s gone on the last couple years, it’s kind of emotional. It really is. I think it’ll sink in a little bit later. It still hasn’t set in. At the same time, I’m so determined just to get back to where I want to be that this is not it for me.”

Decisions and moves made on Monday:

  • DH/PH Jason Giambi’s contract was purchased from Triple-A Columbus
  • Indians placed Giambi (lower back strain) on the 15-day DL (eligible 4/9)
  • OF Ezequiel Carrera designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Giambi
  • INF Cord Phelps and C Yan Gomes optioned to Triple-A Columbus
  • RHP Matt Capps released from his Jan. 31 Minor League contract
  • LHP Nick Hagadone & RHP Bryan Shaw informed they’ll be in OD bullpen
  • RHP Carlos Carrasco will open year in MLB to serve 6-game suspension
  • Carrasco will be optioned to Triple-A Columbus once suspension is complete
  • LHP Scott Kazmir told he will be called up on 4/6 to start team’s fifth game.
  • LHP David Huff informed he will not be on the Opening Day roster
  • Antonetti said he’ll work to trade Carrera and/or Huff (both out of options)
  • Antonetti maintained interest in re-signing RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka and Capps
  • Roster moves will be needed to add non-roster players Kazmir and Raburn
  • One way to clear spot on 40-man will be RHP Frank Herrmann to 60-day DL

Tentative Opening Day roster

Rotation
1. Justin Masterson
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
3. Brett Myers
4. Zach McAllister
*5. Scott Kazmir

Note: Kazmir will not be on Opening Day roster, but is the fifth starter to open the year. Carlos Carrasco will be on the Opening Day roster, but the plan is to have him back in Triple-A after he serves six-game suspension from 2011. Carrasco was punished for throwing at KC’s Billy Butler. The pitcher originally appealed the suspension, but injured his arm and missed the rest of 2011 and all of 2012 without serving it.

Bullpen
RH Chris Perez
RH Vinnie Pestano
RH Joe Smith
RH Cody Allen
RH Matt Albers
RH Bryan Shaw
LH Nick Hagadone
LH Rich Hill

Note: When the Indians add Kazmir to the roster, one of the relievers will likely be optioned, considering Carrasco will have one game remaining on his suspension. Players who have options (Allen, Shaw and Hagadone) are most vulnerable for demotion.

Regulars
1B Nick Swisher
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
3B Lonnie Chisenhall
C Carlos Santana
DH Mark Reynolds
LF Michael Brantley
CF Michael Bourn
RF Drew Stubbs

Bench
UTIL Mike Aviles
UTIL Ryan Raburn
C Lou Marson

Note: When Jason Giambi is ready to be activated from the disabled list on April 9, Cleveland could clear a spot on the active roster by optioning Carrasco to the Minor Leagues. The Indians would then be back to a customary 12-man pitching staff (seven relievers) and a normal four-player bench.

Disabled list
DH Jason Giambi (back)
RH Blake Wood (elbow)
RH Josh Tomlin (elbow)
RH Frank Herrmann (elbow)

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