OAKLAND (AP) — If those independent league road trips weren’t humbling enough for Scott Kazmir, starting over from square one with his delivery and mechanics sure did the trick.
As Kazmir looks back a couple of years now, a fresh $22 million, two-year contract with the Oakland Athletics in hand, that challenging time in his baseball career is all worthwhile.
“The past couple years the organization has had a great team, a great fan base and that definitely swayed my decision a little bit,” said Kazmir, who drew serious interest from several clubs.
The two-time defending AL West champion A’s announced the deal Wednesday after Kazmir passed his physical. The addition of Kazmir fills a key rotation spot with a player plenty familiar with the division after his stint pitching for the Los Angeles Angels.
A’s general manager Billy Beane, who also made three trades in the past three days to build his 2014 roster, isn’t ready to pencil Kazmir into a particular spot in the club’s young rotation. That will be up to manager Bob Melvin.
“The advantage of having as much good starting pitching as you can get is something that has helped make us successful,” Beane said. “The more we looked at it, the more we thought we should jump on the opportunity to bring him in. Having five good starters, and I think in some respects we have more, puts us, puts the club in a position of strength.”
That was before the two-time All-Star was limited to one start in 2011 for the Angels before going on the disabled list with a lower back strain and being released. The 29-year-old Kazmir then spent the 2012 season with independent Sugar Land before bouncing back to go 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts and 158 innings for Cleveland this year.
“Pitching in the AL West, I’m very comfortable there. I like pitching in the Oakland stadium,” Kazmir said. “After my time in Los Angeles with the Angels, I kind of did a lot of self-evaluating and a lot of hard work getting to where I was last year.”
A stint in the Atlantic League with Sugar Land — a mere 20 minutes from his Houston-area home — provided Kazmir an ideal place to find himself again.
“It was a great venue for me to get back into the game, get my feet wet again, face hitters. It surprised me, the challenge that was in that league, definitely surprised me and got me ready for this past season,” Kazmir said. “It was a lot of fun. The road trips weren’t ideal to say the least.”
Kazmir went 9-15 in 2010 for Los Angeles and Beane recalls his early days among baseball’s best lefties.
Taking the long road back to the big leagues has only helped Kazmir get to this point.
“It’s probably a great learning experience. He was one of the top prospects coming out of high school in the game,” Beane said. “It was probably a character-building experience for him as much as anything. There’s an appreciation in having made that climb back that will serve him well going forward.”
Despite all of the hours in the video room, tweaking his delivery and mechanics, Kazmir still considers himself much like his old hard-throwing self — just with some added elements.
“Stuff wise, I feel like I’m the same pitcher,” Kazmir said. “I’m a lot more of a pitcher now than I was in my early years. I was more a guy who threw as hard as I could and got swings and misses.”