OAKLAND – The pinpoint fastball location. The deceptive change of speeds.
Nick Swisher saw it all from Scott Kazmir last season when they were Cleveland Indians teammates. But Swisher still marveled Wednesday as Kazmir, making his Oakland A’s debut against Cleveland, held the Indians’ bats spellbound over 7 1/3 innings in a 6-1 A’s victory.
Swisher knows the comeback that Kazmir struggled through to reinvent himself as a pitcher after the lefty was released by the Los Angeles Angels in June 2011.
“Two years ago he was playing catch in his backyard,” Swisher said. “So just to see where he is now, on one side you’re upset, but on the other side you’re kinda happy to see where he’s at.”
Kazmir’s full skill set was on display as he held Cleveland to three hits and no runs. He spotted his fastball to both sides of the plate. He mixed in his curve and changeup enough to where the Indians couldn’t sit on any one pitch. And he didn’t let some good-natured chirping from Cleveland’s dugout bother him in the first inning.
“Kaz was a big fish in this locker room last year,” Swisher said. “We had to give him a little bit of (crap), but we couldn’t give him too much. It didn’t last long.”
Kazmir, a flame-throwing top prospect when he broke into the bigs with Tampa Bay, was out of the majors and pitching with the independent league Sugar Land Skeeters before signing a minor league deal with Cleveland last season. He helped the Indians secure a wild-card playoff berth.
After signing a two-year $22 million deal with Oakland in the offseason, Kazmir is a critical piece of the rotation, particularly with Jarrod Parker out all season and A.J. Griffin also missing time with an elbow injury.
“He’s so unpredictable now with four pitches,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s got a great changeup, he pitches in and out with his fastball. It’s kind of how it starts with him, moving it around with the heater and mixing in other stuff.”
Kazmir said it was advantageous that Tuesday night’s start got rained out and he made his A’s debut during the day – less time for the butterfies to gather in his stomach.
“I felt more edgy last night,” he shared.
The pitching-friendly confines of the Coliseum benefited him early, as two deep fly balls in the first inning died on the warning track.
“It comes to a point where you get behind in the count, you make a quality fastball away and (hope) the park holds it,” Kazmir said. “It feels good when you’re behind in the count to make a quality pitch and get an out.”
Kazmir’s efficiency helped move along a game that was delayed early by a nearly five-minute replay when Melvin made a challenge on a close play at the plate where Derek Norris was called out. The call was upheld.
Melvin speculated that part of the delay may have been replay officials reviewing whether he made his request to umpires after the batter was in the batter’s box and the pitcher was on the mound, which is not allowed.
“I got a late call on it” from the clubhouse to challenge, Melvin said. “It looked like Jed was starting to get in the box. It was allowed. But it’s becoming pretty clear that unless it’s obvious, they’re not gonna overturn it, because we had him as safe.” As the A's prepared for the second game of WEdnesday's doubleheader, one notable change to their lineup was Coco Crisp getting a rest and Sam Fuld playing center and leading off.