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By Jon Weisman
Technically, the only big-league season Scott Kazmir missed in his career was in 2012.
But the new Dodger left-hander actually went from September 2010 to May 2013 without a quality start, as he went through the challenges of tearing himself down and building himself back up.
After the Angels parted ways with him in June 2011, Kazmir began his comeback with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League — registering a 5.34 ERA in 64 innings — and winter ball with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Winter League (where he was a teammate with Kiké Hernandez).
Eventually, he was rewarded with a successful comeback season for the Cleveland Indians (4.04 ERA, 3.51 FIP) at age 29 in 2013.
“It was a long process,” Kazmir said in a conference call with reporters today. “It was definitely a low point of me getting released by the Angels. I knd of wanted to take a step back and start from scratch — go back to fundamentals and really give myself great habits, and get away from those bad habits I created. Just hard work, going through winter ball and independent ball and slowly getting things back, slowly feeling comfortable and just getting to know my body more – I think that was the big difference for me.”
Kazmir had already thrown more than 1,000 MLB innings when the reboot button was hit, but at no point did he say to himself that enough was enough.
“I never felt like that,” Kazmir said. “I always had the motivation, because I knew it was still in there. I wasn’t throwing as hard as I would like to at that time — I was definitely in the low-to-mid-80s. It just felt like there was a lot still there that somehow I couldn’t unlock at the time. It was a frustrating time. I knew I was capable of getting back. I knew it was going to be a long process, and I just stuck with it.
“For me it was just going back to the drawing board – I did a lot of drills I kind of did back when I was a kid. … There were minor things that kind of messed with my delivery to where I compensated, and it just really kind of snowballed and things just really felt foreign to me at one point.”
Since returning to the Majors, Kazmir has added 531 1/3 more innings to his career ledger, with a 3.54 ERA (3.61 FIP) and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Though his strikeouts are down slightly, he has been a more effective pitcher than in his mid-20s.
“Back in the day, it was just get it and throw it,” he said. “I don’t know how I did it, I just did it. I think now, being able to know my body a lot more, being a lot more knowledgeable of the game, I think it’s a huge advantage.”
The Dodgers will enjoy that advantage as Kazmir’s first career National League team. Though his three-year deal has a player opt-out clause after the 2016 season, Kazmir said he’d be “honored” to finish his career with Los Angeles.
In the meantime, the career .115 hitter (3 for 26 with 10 strikeouts) is looking forward to taking his chances at the plate.
“I don’t get cheated,” he said. “I really don’t have too much of a scouting report. Probably just throw it down the middle, and I probably won’t hit it. I’m in the batting cages now trying to iron out that swing a little bit.”