Kazmir not lighting up radar gun, insists there’s more to come

Scott Kazmir glanced at the scoreboard radar gun a couple of times Thursday and saw 88 mph. 

And those were fastballs.

“But I feel like with my delivery and everything, it’s just not completely in synch,” the veteran left-hander said. “That’s more the concern I’m working towards. I know the velo’s going to be there once that’s kind of synched up.”

Kazmir gave up four hits, two runs and a walk with two strikeouts in three innings in his third Grapefruit League start for the Braves, after working a combined three scoreless innings over his first two outings.

He threw 32 strikes in 48 pitches and got knocked around some by an Astros lineup that featured only a couple of regular starters, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis.

There was a homer by the second batter he faced, Derek Fisher, and Kazmir also allowed a run in the third inning after a pair of no-out singles by Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick.

His fastball velocity hovered mostly in the 88-90 mph range, about where it’s been all spring. That’s well below the former three-time All-Star’s velocity during his prime and several ticks off what he featured in 2016, when he went 10-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 26 starts for the Dodgers and had 134 strikeouts in 136 1/3 innings.

“Progressing, that’s how I’m looking at it,” said Kazmir, who missed the entire 2017 season with the Dodgers because of injuries, primarily a left-hip issue. “My cutter-slash-slider wasn’t working too well with lefties, as you can see on those two balls that were hit, both of them scored the runs were cutters that didn’t really do much, they kind of backed up on me. Pretty good action to righties, but lefties I kind of left it arm-side for the most part.

“But still going, still progressing. I was pleased how I attacked the strike zone a little better, but still a lot of work to be done. I was a couple of misses glove-side with my fastball that I was pleased with, just to be able to get it in that area and establish that part of the plate. Just keep going.”

The Dodgers traded him to the Braves as part of the financially motivated December megadeal that allowed the Braves to dump the final two years of Matt Kemp’s contract by taking on nearly $30 million in payroll for 2018 when they acquired utility man Charlie Culberson along with high-salaried pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Kazmir and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who was immediately designated for assignment and made a free agent, as agreed to so that Gonzalez would waive his no-trade clause.

McCarthy, 34, has pitched well this spring and has a spot in the starting rotation. He and Kazmir both are in the final year of their contracts. The Braves, who owe Kazmir $16 million regardless, weren’t counting on getting anything from him and weren’t even sure at the time of the trade if he’d be healthy enough to pitch.

But he reported to camp ready to pitch and made it known that his intention was to win a spot in the starting rotation. The feeling good part hasn’t changed – he said he’s healthy, that there’s more in his arm than we’ve seen so far. While the velocity’s not been apparent, he said he’s in a different place with his health than last summer when he tried to pitch for the Dodgers but never made it through rehab stints without one nagging injury or another.

“It’s not even comparable, at all,” he said. “Right now it feels like I’m on the verge of really unlocking a little bit more power. But it doesn’t come overnight apparently. The reps that I’m doing, there’s flashes of it in the bullpen, there’s flashes of it in the game, but it’s a matter of just getting everything together, getting everything synched up. Because it definitely feels like there’s a lot more in the tank. 

“It’s just a matter of being consistent with my delivery and being able to get that out of it.”

His chances to claim one of the two open rotation spots have never been good, with the Braves likely to give those spots to two of the three young lefties competing for them: Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb and Max Fried. But Kazmir is still getting turns in the rotation, getting chances to compete.

“He’s making the starts, doing the innings, the change-up is really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s one of those things, just keep playing it out. Long as he feels good, just keep the thing moving. I don’t know where he expected to be with his velocity right now. There’ve been glimpses of it a little bit more.”

Snitker said Kazmir is in the running for a rotation spot and that team officials haven’t discussed the bullpen as a possibility for him.

“We’ll just keep going about it. He got through the three innings today, which is good,” Snitker said. “He’s done everything that was drawn up for him to do to this point, so that’s a good thing.”

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