Giants & A’s

Matt Kawahara, Bay Area baseball beat writer

Kazmir impresses in Oakland A’s debut

03/07/2014 3:43 PM

03/07/2014 4:01 PM

PHOENIX -- Scott Kazmir’s first game appearance in an A’s uniform was quick -- in a good way. The left-hander started Friday’s 2-0 A’s win over the Arizona Diamondbacks and faced 10 hitters in three scoreless innings, allowing two singles and striking out two. He retired his first six batters throwing mostly fastballs with good command and worked at a notably fast pace in the first inning -- which he attributed partly to the adrenaline of finally getting into a game with his new team.

"I don’t want to be that fast," Kazmir said afterward. "But I do want to be quick. Just get the hitters back in the box and keep at a good pace."

The tempo didn’t escape third baseman Josh Donaldson, who said Kazmir looked "great. Pounded the fastball, got ahead of guys. Getting ahead like that, you’re going to be pretty successful."

Manager Bob Melvin, meanwhile, also noted the pace on Kazmir’s fastball, saying: "92 looks like 95 out of his hand. He gets good extension with it. … That’s what we saw at the end of last year."

Overall, it was an encouraging debut for Kazmir, the 30-year-old lefty the A’s signed to a two-year contract this winter after his comeback season last year in Cleveland. Kazmir, of course, went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts for the Indians in 2013 after spending the previous year out of affiliated baseball, pitching in the independent Atlantic League after his promising early career had flamed out in Los Angeles the season before.

Kazmir said his focus Friday was on establishing command of his fastball, which he likes to do before mixing in secondary pitches like his slider and cutter. He said he did throw a handful of changeups and several curveballs against the Diamondbacks.

Of the nine outs he recorded, six came via ground balls -- including a double play -- and two on strikeouts. Josh Donaldson made a neat sliding play to his left on a sharp grounder for the second out of the first inning.

"That was great," Kazmir said. "I’ve seen him make a couple plays like that last year, so he’s got it in him. He has a lot of range."

Good infield defense could be a key behind Kazmir this season. According to the website FanGraphs, Kazmir induced a higher rate of ground balls than fly balls every season from 2005-07 while with Tampa Bay, and won double-digit games in each of those seasons. That ratio flip-flopped from 2008 until his bounce-back season last year, when he had a career-high ground ball-to-fly ball ratio of 1.13.

Friday, the A’s infield handled all chances behind Kazmir, including new first baseman Alberto Callaspo, with whom the A’s are experimenting at first this spring. Kazmir’s take on Callaspo’s debut: "Great. Did everything you’d want a first baseman to do."

The only trouble for Kazmir came in the third, when he allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning, including a sharp grounder that bounced off Donaldson’s glove. Kazmir, though, induced a 4-6-3 double play from Didi Gregorius and then got A.J. Pollock to pop out to end the inning.

"Toward the end of the third inning I started to get a little tired, which is normal just from the adrenaline going," Kazmir said. "There’s a little more effort on every pitch. But all in all, I was pleased."

* Callaspo, who has never played first base in a regular-season game in his eight seasons in the majors, looked comfortable in limited action, handling all his defensive chances. All three first-inning outs came on grounders, as Callaspo scooped a one-hop throw from Donaldson for the second out and took a grounder to the bag himself for the third.

"That was easy today," Callaspo said. "Let’s see what happens as spring training goes."

Kazmir joked that he "wanted to get (Callaspo) some work. Knew he was out there and wanted to make him feel comfortable early."

Callaspo, at 5-foot-9, is by no means a prototypical first baseman, but having him as an option there would open up more infield possibilities for the A’s, who value versatility and have used a platoon at first in recent seasons.

Brandon Moss figures to play against right-handed pitchers, and Nate Freiman is really the lone right-handed option for a platoon. Callaspo, though, is a switch-hitter who can also play second and third base.

"I thought he was great over there (Friday)," Melvin said. "He picked one, first three plays of the game, he’s involved in all of them. The actions are good. Hopefully he had some fun out there. It looked like it."

Melvin said Callaspo’s first-base sessions on the back field in the past few days have been encouraging. Fielding ground balls shouldn’t be a problem for the veteran -- it’s plays like bunt coverages and relays, where Callaspo must learn where he needs to be playing first base.

There were no such plays Friday. Callaspo said one of the main differences in his debut was simply wearing the bigger first baseman’s glove, which he borrowed from Barton. Barton uses a Rawlings glove while Callaspo prefers a Wilson model, so Callaspo has a new glove on order.

Donaldson said looking across the diamond and seeing Callaspo was a little odd at first. "But after you make the first throw to him, it’s fine."

As for whether he thinks Callaspo can make the transition, Donaldson shrugged: "He’s an infielder. First base isn’t that difficult, it’s the easiest position in the field. So I’d expect him to have a pretty good transition, since he’s already played a corner before."

* Catcher Derek Norris was scratched from Friday’s lineup with back spasms, and Melvin said Norris likely will not be available to play Saturday either.

* Reliever Jesse Chavez recorded the longest outing for an A’s pitcher this spring with four scoreless innings and hasn’t allowed a run in 8 2/3 Cactus League innings. Melvin said Chavez was originally scheduled for three innings but needed just 30 pitches to complete them, so he sent Chavez back out as the A’s are trying to stretch out his arm.

"He’s really an important piece in our bullpen," Melvin said. "You really can use him for anything."

* Daric Barton, who entered for Callaspo at first base, drove in a run with a bases-loaded single in the eighth inning and is 4-for-8 this spring. Melvin said Barton often gets a rep for being "passive" at the plate because of his walk totals, but that since rejoining the A’s last season he has seemed more willing to go after pitches he likes early in the count.

* Just to whet your appetite, here’s the lineup for tomorrow’s away game against the Colorado Rockies:

CF Crisp

2B Punto

3B Callaspo

DH Freiman

1B Barton

RF Taylor

C Jaso

SS Russell

LF Fuld

P Griffin

Tomorrow’s print story is on Michael Taylor, a familiar face in Sacramento who has spent most of the last four seasons with the River Cats and is out of options this season. If he doesn’t make the 25-man roster out of camp -- and it’s not likely he will -- another team could step in and claim him. Taylor struck out with the bases loaded in his lone at-bat Friday but is hitting .304 early in spring after working with Josh Donaldson on his swing over the winter. This despite the only time they saw each other in person was for Taylor’s wedding -- according to Taylor, the two sent each other regular video messages in which Donaldson offered his advice on Taylor’s mechanics.

About This Blog

Matt Kawahara has covered baseball for The Sacramento Bee for three years. Kawahara, a McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley graduate, joined The Bee in 2010. Before joining Sports, he was a general assignment news reporter. Reach Kawahara at mkawahara@sacbee.com. Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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