SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The main attraction on the back fields at Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday morning was 37-year-old Scott Kazmir, who drew a sizable audience when he threw his first bullpen session since signing a Minor League deal with the Giants earlier this week.
“There was a pretty big crowd, and for good reason,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s got a long history of pitching in big games and for several different teams. It was exciting to see him on the bump again. Obviously, having been teammates with Kaz, that was actually kind of an inspiring moment.”
Kazmir hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2016, but the three-time All-Star is on the comeback trail and will be evaluated as a starter this spring. He said he believes he’s found an ideal home with the Giants, who feature several of his former teammates on their coaching staff -- including Kapler and director of pitching Brian Bannister -- and are run by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who knows Kazmir from his previous stints with the A’s and Dodgers.
“I just felt like it was a good fit,” Kazmir said. “I didn’t necessarily solicit myself out to a lot of teams, because there was a certain situation that I wanted to be in.”
With Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Aaron Sanchez projected as their top five starters, the Giants don’t appear to have an opening in their rotation for Kazmir. But they’ve been loading up on starting pitching depth to guard against injuries and other unforeseen events that could crop up as they prepare to return to a 162-game season this year.
Kazmir has a 4.01 ERA over 12 Major League seasons, but he missed the entire '17 campaign due to injury and was released by the Braves in March 2018. He felt he still had more left in the tank at that point, but he decided to set baseball aside to focus on taking care of his family in Houston.
“I knew I had a lot of baseball left, but at the same time, there was a lot going on in my life with my family,” Kazmir said. “There were a lot of health issues going on with my family. I knew I had to be at home.”
Still, Kazmir’s Major League dreams were rekindled when he began to play catch with another former A’s pitcher, Kendall Graveman, during the 2019 All-Star break. His arm felt great, and he craved competition, so he decided to join the pop-up Constellation Energy League in Texas last year, where he made four appearances for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre.
“I was very excited to get my feet wet again and see some hitters and everything,” Kazmir said. “Once I got out there and was able to get that adrenaline again and be able to face hitters, it was something that I missed so much. I knew that this was a path for me.”
Kazmir, whose velocity was up to 92-93 mph in his private workout for the Giants, already has one successful comeback under his belt. After a tough three-year stint with the Angels from 2009-11, Kazmir didn’t appear in the Majors in '12, but he got a second chance after signing a Minor League deal with the Indians and delivered a bounce-back season in '13. In 2014, he earned his third career All-Star nod and logged a 3.55 ERA over 190 1/3 innings with the A’s.
“It does help,” Kazmir said. “It almost seems like I have the blueprint now of what to expect.”
Baragar eyes new role
Left-hander Caleb Baragar was used primarily out of the bullpen after debuting for the Giants last year, but he is being stretched out this spring after asking for a chance to prove himself as a starter.
“I talked with Farhan and [general manager] Scott [Harris] right after the season,” Baragar said. “I shared my feelings of what I thought and kind of what I saw going through the year. I had prepared to be a starter anyway and really didn’t end up becoming a reliever until camp started. I just kind of expressed my feelings of, ‘Hey, this is something I would like to do down the road.’”
Baragar, 26, was a starter in the Minors and recorded a 3.45 ERA over 22 games (21 starts) for Double-A Richmond in 2019. But he got his first opportunity with the Giants out of the bullpen, logging a 4.03 ERA over 24 appearances in '20. Baragar leaned heavily on his high-spin fastball, which he threw 75 percent of the time, but he’s now focusing on improving his secondary pitches, specifically his slider and curveball.
“I feel a lot more confident with my slider right now,” Baragar said. “This year, I'm just trying to separate both my curveball and my slider with different shapes and make sure they're distinctly different, because sometimes they have a tendency to blur together and become just one pitch. ... It's going to be really helpful if I do end up starting down the road, if I have three pitches as opposed to two pitches. To be a starter, you really need three quality offerings.”
Posey, who sat out the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, will start behind the plate against Angels left-hander José Quintana. Left-hander Conner Menez will start for the Giants and will be followed by six non-roster pitchers: Sam Long, Jay Jackson, Zack Littell, Sam Wolff, Tyler Cyr and James Sherfy.
Here’s the tentative lineup for the Giants:
Donovan Solano, 2B
Buster Posey, C
Alex Dickerson, LF
Wilmer Flores, 1B
LaMonte Wade Jr., CF
Austin Slater, DH
Jason Vosler, 3B
Joe McCarthy, RF
Mauricio Dubón, SS
Kapler and several Giants players showed support for social justice movements by kneeling for the national anthem before games last year, but Kapler said he still hasn’t decided whether he’ll continue to do so this season.
“I will always use my platform to amplify the voices of people in marginalized communities who need me to do so,” Kapler said. “That said, we’re in a different climate than we were last summer. All of those same issues are still present and important, but I’m always going to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis, and I’ll continue to give it some thought.”