SEATTLE – The A’s had to feel good about taking two of three from the Seattle Mariners.
Seeing Scott Kazmir smiling after Sunday’s 3-0 victory was even better.
The veteran left-hander was lifted after six innings of a brilliant outing when he had a reoccurrence of triceps tightness in his throwing arm. A’s manager Bob Melvin described the move as precautionary, and Kazmir downplayed the injury as minor and expressed confidence he’d be ready for his next start.
“I’m fine,” he said with a knowing grin before a question was even asked in his postgame media session. “It’s pretty much the same tightness I felt in spring training. I don’t know if it’s dehydration or what. It just started tightening up as the game went on. Maybe I could have powered through it, but at that point it was just more cautious.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's take rubber match in Seattle]
Kazmir had one of his Cactus League starts skipped due to tightness in his triceps, a problem that he said hasn’t surfaced in the past. He described the current discomfort as less severe than what he felt in the spring.
Cue a collective sigh of relief from Melvin and the rest of Oakland’s front office. Kazmir, signed to a two-year $22 million contract in the winter, is absolutely essential to the success of the A’s rotation. On Sunday, he showed his new teammates just how good he can be when dialed in.
He carved up the Mariners with precision, retiring 18 of the 20 batters he faced and striking out nine over six innings. The Mariners got back-to-back singles from Brad Miller and Robinson Cano in the fourth. Other than that, their at-bats resembled a looping video clip as hitter after hitter waved at Kazmir’s assortment of off-speed pitches and began the walk back to the dugout.
Melvin was asked what Kazmir had working.
“Everything,” the manager responded. “He had a great changeup. He was throwing cutters, throwing sliders, dropping the curve ball in first pitch. It might have been his best fastball. It was a mix of everything.”
Yoenis Cespedes’ two-run homer broke a scoreless tie in the eighth Sunday, continuing a very enjoyable road trip for the A’s. They are 5-1 so far on this nine-game trek, 8-4 overall, and they’re on top of the American League West by 1½ games as they head to Anaheim for a three-game series with the Angels.
Their rotation, minus Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, leads the league with a 1.95 ERA (as does their overall ERA of 2.17). But a healthy Kazmir is vital. Melvin said he had no indication something was bothering Kazmir until told about it after the sixth.
“He’s always fidgety (on the mound), and you’re always kind of a little worried,” Melvin said. “… (But) everything checked out as far as his strengthening and everything he does after the game.”
It’s worth noting the A’s have a day off Thursday, so they could skip Kazmir for a start if they choose. The lefty doesn’t think that will be necessary. He went up into the clubhouse to stretch after the sixth Sunday, thinking he might return to the mound, until pitching coach Curt Young visited and told him he was coming out.
Catcher John Jaso said catching Kazmir is enjoyable because he can throw all of his off-speed pitches for strikes in any count. He also likes the quick pace with which Kazmir works.
“When I’m in the dugout, I gotta hurry to get on my gear because he’s the first guy out there,” Jaso said. “He’s pretty much all alone on the mound waiting for the catcher to get back there. He keeps the defense on its toes as well.”
Kazmir and the A’s to this point have made a dandy pairing. If his arm indeed is fine, he forms a nice tandem with right-hander Sonny Gray atop the rotation.
“That’s the best I’ve felt,” Kazmir said of Sunday’s outing. “It’s just unfortunate it had to get cut short. But it’s early in the year.”