At a certain point it hits you that you simply can’t do it anymore. What do you do when that happens? Do you give up? Do you keep struggling hoping the ability somehow come back? Do you sulk, asking yourself why this is happening? Scott Kazmir has reached that point in his career too many times- when he got shelled in the 2009 Postseason, when he allowed 13 earned runs to the Oakland Athletics in July of 2010, and then when he allowed 5 runs in just 1.2 innings in his only major league start of 2011. Everything looked hopeless. His fastball velocity waned, his once dynamic slider lost its bite. It looked like Kazmir’s continued attempts at returning to his previous form as a topflight major league starting pitcher were an exercise in futility. But Kazmir’s fire never left him. He joined the Independent Sugar Land Skeeters and got embarrassed, managing just a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA in 14 starts. But he gritted his teeth and kept going to the mound every fifth day. And even after a season- no, a three-year stretch- of nightmares, he reported to the Gigantes de Carolina in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League in Puerto Rico and waited for an opportunity.
On November 15th, the Gigantes finally gave Kazmir a shot and he struck out 6 while walking just 1 in 4 innings. His next start wasn’t nearly as good as he allowed 4 runs in 5 innings, striking out 4 but walking 4 as well, but in his next time out, he struck out 7 versus 1 walk in 6 innings of 1-run ball. In 5 starts for the Gigantes, Kazmir is just 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA but has struck out 27 while walking just 8 in 22.2 innings and managed a 2.27 groundout to airout ratio. Most importantly, though, is that his fastball velocity has returned to the 90-94 MPH range and the overpowering pitcher that struck out well over a batter per inning from 2004 to 2008 and led the American League with 239 strikeouts in 2007 has begun to resurface. Teams throughout baseball noticed the velocity that Kazmir rediscovered and the determination that never left him, and one of them was willing to give him a chance. Scott Kazmir has signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians hoping to return to the major leagues and become anything remotely resembling the pitcher he used to be. Kazmir is about to turn 29 years old. It’s not too late- and after everything he’s gone through, don’t underestimate him. Maybe he falls flat on his face again, but maybe the pitcher who was once the only beacon of hope for Rays fans watching their franchise going nowhere finds a light at the end of the tunnel himself.