Oakland A’s Kazmir following final spring tune-up: ‘I’m ready’

Published: Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014 - 11:09 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014 - 11:25 pm

OAKLAND -- Scott Kazmir offered this succinct self-evaluation after holding the Giants to no runs on two hits over 5 1/3 innings in his final spring training outing Thursday night at AT&T Park:

"I’m ready."

Kazmir certainly looked it in his final tune-up before his scheduled A’s debut on April 1 against Cleveland. With the exception of Hunter Pence, who singled and doubled, Kazmir held the rest of what could ostensibly be the Giants’ opening day lineup hitless while walking three and striking out four.

The left-hander’s final spring line reads like this: 15 2/3 innings, nine hits, three earned runs, seven walks, 14 strikeouts. Considering the amount of bad news the A’s have dealt with on the pitching front this spring, those early numbers from Kazmir -- their major offseason addition in the rotation, whose acquisition seems even bigger now with the loss of Jarrod Parker -- have to be encouraging.

"I felt great from the start, pitch one," Kazmir said. "Later in the game I was mixing a lot of my pitches up and throwing a lot of off-speed first pitch, something I wanted to work on last start. And it felt good."

Manager Bob Melvin said he thought Kazmir’s outing was "his best (so far), even though he’s been really good all spring." Melvin too pointed to Kazmir’s mixing four pitches in all counts -- "threw some good curveballs early in the count and used his fastball and his changeup effectively."

Though still an exhibition setting, getting a start in the Bay Bridge series figures to help Kazmir in a couple ways. It let him transition to the Bay Area weather -- notably cooler than his daytime Cactus League outings -- and Kazmir admitted it was "good practice" for how to stay loose and warm between innings. It also gave him a start in a pitcher’s park environment along the lines of the Coliseum, where he might be more prone to go after hitters than in thinner air in places like Arizona.

Kazmir said he’s eager to pitch at the Coliseum, where he’s felt comfortable as a visiting player in past seasons. His numbers there suggest he’s more willing to pitch to contact in such a cavernous park.

Kazmir is 6-5 with a 4.46 ERA in 13 career starts in Oakland, but more telling is his rate of 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s far lower than his rate at several other stadiums where he has made that many starts, such as Tropicana Field (72 starts, 9.8 K/9), Cleveland’s Progressive Field (18 starts, 9.9 K/9) and Fenway Park (16 starts, 8.7 K/9).

"It’s a pitcher’s ballpark, plain and simple," Kazmir said. "I feel like you get behind in the count, you’re able to make a quality pitch and let them put it in play and you have a good chance of getting an out."

It’s not something Kazmir will be doing often, but Thursday’s start gave him a chance to chip in with the bat, too. He walked in his first at-bat against Tim Hudson, then put down a sacrifice bunt in his second. He said drawing the walk was harder than it looked.

"Just having those takes, doing a little hip turn, it made me tired just those four pitches," Kazmir said with a grin. "So I don’t think I’ll do that again. I’ll probably just stand up there like a statue to save a little energy."

* The A’s took what ended up being the decisive 4-0 lead on Josh Reddick’s two-run home run off Tim Hudson in the sixth inning. The ball looked to be possibly headed for McCovey Cove -- but bounced off a flagpole above Levi’s Landing in right field.

"I kinda wish I could’ve seen how far it (would’ve gone)," Reddick said. "When I hit it I was like, OK, that ball’s going in the water. Then I look up and it’s back on the field."

Regardless, it continued a strong spring for Reddick, who’s hitting .320 (16-for-50) with three homers and a team-leading 15 RBIs. The A’s would love to see Reddick return to something like his 2012 form after being hampered all last season with a wrist injury, and so far this spring that appears a good possibility.

"You could tell early on that the wrist was no longer an issue for him, and those are the type of swings you’re seeing out of him where the ball’s jumping off his bat," Melvin said. "He’s not feeling for it, it seems to be a lot more balanced, not swinging around the wrist and trying to do things a little differently."

Reddick, who hit .226 last year and saw his home run total drop from 32 to 12, said he has the potential to be "unbelievably better" when fully healthy. He said the wrist, on which he had surgery over the offseason, hasn’t given him any trouble since he arrived for camp, though he’s still getting precautionary treatment to avoid flare-ups.

"When my wrist isn’t healthy my swing isn’t where I need it to be," Reddick said. "My power’s probably my best asset as a hitter. And when that’s gone, I’m not really much of a dangerous hitter anymore and pitchers probably licked their chops whenever that came up last year.

"But being healthy this year I’m going to be more of a threat in the middle of our lineup and with the guys hitting ahead of me I should have plenty of guys on base and be able to drive them in."

* Reddick also made a nice defensive play running down a drive by Pablo Sandoval into Triples Alley in the bottom of the sixth. The catch took him up against the wall, though he didn’t need to scale it (a la his robbery of Michael Morse in the Cactus League opener between the Giants and A’s in February).

Reddick said the route he took to the ball was "not my best," but he was shaded toward the deep alley anyway to prevent a potential triple and covered the ground. That was a relief to right-hander Dan Otero, who served up the pitch Sandoval hit.

"That’s gone in every other ballpark in America," Otero said. "I’ll take it, though."

* Yoenis Cespedes, who’s had a rough spring in the batter’s box, pulled two sharp line drives in his first two at-bats, one of which got through for a double while the other was stopped by Sandoval for a double play. Melvin said he thought Cespedes, who has been experimenting with a shorter swing and is batting .179 in spring, came out Thursday "just hunting for the ball and trying to get a good pitch to hit."

As far as the swing adjustments are concerned, Melvin said the left fielder is "just trying to find a happy medium right now. He’s a power guy, he’s going to strike out some, so he’s just looking like anybody to make some adjustments at times and get better."

* One more note on Kazmir -- the left-hander threw 78 pitches Thursday, right at his pre-determined limit of 80. Melvin didn’t exactly say Kazmir will be limited to a certain pitch count in his first start of the season, but did say before Thursday’s game the A’s intend to keep an eye on Kazmir’s innings and pitches over the course of the season after he maybe hit a wall in the second half last season.

Melvin said Kazmir could probably get up in the 100 range next week against Cleveland, with adrenaline helping out, but don’t expect to see any 140-pitch complete games.

* Infielder Nick Punto, who has been nursing a sore hamstring, felt good during pre-game work Thursday and will be in the lineup for the second game of the series Friday, Melvin said.

* Fun note from the box score -- A’s catcher Stephen Vogt stole second base on a Coco Crisp strikeout in the ninth inning. That’s Vogt’s first stolen base of the spring, and he doesn’t have one in 65 career major-league games.

* Jesse Chavez is the scheduled starter for the A’s in Game 2 of the series Friday, with Tim Lincecum slated to go for the Giants. Also listed as probable pitchers for the A’s: Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson. Back tomorrow night.


Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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