CLEVELAND — One year ago, former Tampa Bay Rays ace Scott Kazmir spent the first official day of summer looking for a job, hoping to resurrect his baseball career.
“I don’t think about that anymore because it’s way too stressful,” the left-handed pitcher said. “I’ve blocked it out of my mind. All I focus on now is getting back to being where I was.
“I know that I took a big step in the right direction with this start tonight.”
Kazmir continued his inspirational comeback by throwing seven strong innings Friday night, allowing one run on five hits, as the Indians pulled away for a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
The win pulled the Tribe within three games of first-place Detroit in the American League Central Division, and gave it a 5-2 record on its nine-game homestand.
“I’m happy for Scott because him finding his way back to the big leagues is just a great story,” said Cleveland first baseman Mark Reynolds, who went 2-for-3 with one run and one RBI.
“Being out of baseball for a year, then playing indy league ball (for the Sugar Land Skeeters from July-September 2012) before getting an opportunity here shows you what kind of a competitor he is.”
Kazmir (4-4, 5.37 ERA) carried a shutout — and a 2-0 lead — into the sixth before Twins second baseman Brian Dozier smacked a leadoff homer into the bleachers in left.
It was his only mistake as the two-time American League All-Star struck out seven without issuing a walk.
Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano followed with one perfect inning apiece for the Indians, who improved to 5-1 in Kazmir’s six starts at Progressive Field.
“We shouldn’t speak too soon, but I feel pretty comfortable out there,” said Kazmir, who is 4-0 with a 4.26 ERA at home. “I’m a competitor, so it really bothers me when I don’t do well, but since it’s been a while since I’ve gotten these reps, I know it’s going to take some time.
“I wanted to use all my pitches tonight, but I know whenever I need the fastball, especially with two strikes, I’m going to throw it.”
Second baseman Jason Kipnis drove in three runs for the Tribe, including a two-run single in the seventh that broke the game wide open. Kipnis’ bloop hit off Twins reliever Brian Duensing fell just behind shortstop Jamey Carroll, scoring John McDonald and Michael Bourn, to extend Cleveland’s lead to 5-1.
Minnesota starter Samuel Deduno (3-2, 3.72) took the loss by allowing four runs on six hits in six-plus innings. The right-hander struck out six in losing for the first time in four career starts against the Indians.
“I’m not happy we lost the game, but I’m happy with what I’ve been doing,” Deduno said. “I was feeling pretty strong and was throwing the ball good.”
The Indians opened the scoring in the second when Reynolds’ RBI single scored Michael Brantley. Reynolds attempted to turn his hit into a double, but was tagged out by Dozier when he walked off second base after thinking he had already been called out.
“I guess that’s why you don’t assume things,” Reynolds said. “I was out by a couple of feet on the throw to second, but I guess the umpire (Eric Cooper) didn’t see it that way. I guarantee you that I will never make that mistake again.”
The Tribe made it 2-0 in the third on a sacrifice fly by Kipnis that barely made it to the outfield grass. Dozier caught Kipnis’ popout, but dropped the ball as he attempted to transfer it from his glove, allowing Drew Stubbs to scamper home from third base.
“That was an unbelievable piece of baserunning by Stubbs because he had absolutely no business scoring on that play,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “The awareness of the situation that he displayed was tremendous, and Millsy (third base coach Brad Mills) was right on top of it, as well.”
Stubbs had the Indians’ other RBI, driving home Reynolds with one out in the seventh after Josh Roenicke replaced Deduno.
Bourn joined Reynolds in the two-hit club for the Tribe, while third baseman Trevor Plouffe went 2-for-3 for the Twins.
“You can look at it one of two ways tonight with Kazmir,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Either we wasted opportunities or he made pitches when he had to. By the look of the whole body of work tonight, I’d say he made pitches when he had to.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.