Scott Kazmir was detailed in his self-evaluation, outlining areas of growth on the mound, but expressing satisfaction with his first Cactus League start.
Kazmir will also have to remember pitchers, on occasion, also play a little defense, lest he be heckled again by last year’s World Series MVP.
“I didn’t cover first base and [Corey Seager’s] screaming at me, ‘Oh, you don’t want to race me?’ as I’m going to first base,” Kazmir said of a jovial interaction with his former teammate. “That was pretty funny.”
Forgetting to cover first base was a minor mental error in what was Kazmir’s best work of the spring. The southpaw impressed in his first start of the spring on Sunday in the Giants’ 10-4 win over the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, allowing two runs and striking out four in three innings.
“Wasn’t the freshest today, but, you know, that’s expected at this time of Spring Training,” Kazmir said. “For me to go out there and throw strikes and stay ahead of hitters for the most part was the goal, and I was able to do that.”
The southpaw’s command got better as the game went along. In the first two innings, Kazmir left his breaking balls high in the zone. Seager slugged a home run on a pitch right down the middle.
By the third, however, Kazmir was painting corners. Kazmir’s best work of the day came in his second battle with Mookie Betts, whom he set down looking with an inside fastball that froze the 2018 American League MVP Award winner.
It was an encouraging start as Kazmir attempts to play in the Majors for the first time in half a decade. Kazmir’s last Major League appearance came in 2016 as a 32-year-old with the Dodgers, posting a 4.56 ERA over 26 starts.
Now 37, Kazmir is still plenty familiar with toeing the slab. In 2020, Kazmir pitched in the Constellation Energy League, an independent league in Texas where he had a 4.20 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 15 innings for Eastern Reyes del Tigre.
The difference of competition, of course, is measured in light years. On Sunday, Kazmir faced a lineup featuring five All-Stars and two MVPs. Even as Kazmir rounds into form, facing that level of competition served to measure where he stands.
“I feel like facing those type of guys, that type of caliber of players, it speeds up the learning curve, I guess you could say,” Kazmir said. “Just being out there and facing these hitters, you get a lot of feedback on how your stuff plays.”
Cracking the rotation will be tricky given San Francisco’s rotation depth. Johnny Cueto and Kevin Gausman are holdovers from last season. Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Aaron Sanchez signed one-year deals this offseason. Logan Webb isn’t guaranteed a spot, but made 11 starts last season and has the advantage of youth.
As it currently stands, the bullpen is the most likely route for Kazmir to crack the Opening Day roster. Reliever Dedniel Núñez, the Giants’ Rule 5 Draft pick from the Mets in December, will miss this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Given Kazmir’s history as a starter, the southpaw could be a swingman, a role that would be a resource for this particular version of the Giants.
DeSclafani, Wood and Sanchez only threw a combined 46 1/3 innings last season, with Sanchez not pitching at all due to a shoulder injury. The Giants likely won’t want to push either of those three in the season’s early weeks. Having Kazmir bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen would be invaluable. At the moment, however, Kazmir’s primary focus remains on sharpening up.
“Wherever the chips fall, that’s how it’s going to be,” Kazmir said. “But I’m just going out there and trying to get better every day.”