CLEVELAND — The Sugar Land Skeeters are lamenting their loss, while the Indians are celebrating their gain.
Left-hander Scott Kazmir, a two-time All-Star who spent last season pitching for Sugar Land (Texas) in an independent league, is winning games again in the majors. And the Indians are the beneficiary after signing the comeback project to a minor league contract in the offseason.
Kazmir offered up his best big league outing in more than two years Thursday, helping Cleveland to a resounding 9-2 victory that clinched a four-game sweep of the A’s.
More photos below.
With his fastball reaching 96 mph, Kazmir, 29, conjured up memories of his All-Star past — 2006 and ’08 with Tampa Bay. He struck out 10 without a walk over six innings, allowing a run on just five hits, two of which came in the first inning.
“That’s the Kazmir I remember (left-handed-hitting Boston slugger David) Ortiz not arguing about a day off,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team won its fourth straight game and 10th in the last 11 to complete the homestand at 8-1. “I think he had some time to figure himself out on and off the field. I don’t want to get too sentimental, I think he’s kind of at peace with himself.”
A series of injuries and mechanical issues rendered Kazmir ineffective from 2009-11 and out of the majors last season. But after overcoming a rib cage injury to open the year, he’s gotten increasingly better over four starts with the Indians.
“I wouldn’t say I’m there yet, but I’m definitely scratching the surface,” Kazmir said. “I just feel comfortable and I feel confident. I feel like it’s going to get better and better.”
Kazmir sliced through Oakland’s lineup with ease, his only blemish coming on a solo home run from Josh Donaldson with two outs in the sixth. It preceded a strikeout of Luke Montz in which Kazmir’s final pitch hit 96 mph.
“That was some anger right there,” Kazmir said.
It was also a sign that Kazmir is pretty far removed from his status as the Skeeters’ ace.
“Of course, it goes through your head how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time,” said Kazmir, who is the first Cleveland pitcher since Cliff Lee in 2008 to strike out at least 10 without a walk. “But I definitely don’t want to look back anymore. I just want to keep getting after it and moving forward.”
Kazmir’s performance was yet another sparkling effort from Cleveland’s rotation, which has posted a 9-1 record and 2.55 ERA over the last 11 games.
The Indians have also generated offense during the hot stretch, with the production arriving early against former Cleveland ace Bartolo Colon, who was making his first start against the Indians in Cleveland since 2005 as a member of the Angels.
The Indians teed off on Colon’s steady diet of fastballs, scoring six times over the first three innings, with Jason Kipnis belting a two-run homer in the first and Nick Swisher a solo shot to lead off the third. First baseman Mark Reynolds also went deep, hitting his American League-leading 11th homer off right-hander Evan Scribner in the fifth.
Every starter had at least a hit for the Indians, who outscored Oakland 21-8 in the series.
“We’ve got some big hitters in this lineup,” Kipnis said. “A bunch of guys are swinging it well. It’s not just one guy.”
The stretch at Progressive Field was lucrative, as the Indians won eight games on a homestand for the first time since Sept. 8-18, 2005. The momentum comes at an opportune time, as Cleveland opens a three-game series in Detroit tonight against the Central Division-leading Tigers.
Detroit leads the Indians by a game in the standings.
“We’ve won nine out of 10 and we only gained one game on them,” Kipnis said. “We know they’re playing well, too. We’re excited to see them. We know they’re the team to beat.”