Kazmir 'on cloud nine' after return to Majors

May 23rd, 2021

Nearly five years removed from his last Major League appearance, left-hander completed his latest comeback when he took the mound for the Giants in Saturday afternoon’s 6-3 loss to the Dodgers at Oracle Park.

The Giants couldn’t have asked for much more from the 37-year-old Kazmir, who yielded only a solo home run to Max Muncy over four innings in his first big league start since Sept. 23, 2016. Kazmir, who was called up from Triple-A Sacramento to start in place of the injured Logan Webb, topped out at 93.6 mph and allowed two hits -- both to Muncy -- while walking none and striking out two in the 55-pitch effort.   

“I wasn't 100% sure I would have this game,” Kazmir said. “This whole day has been a huge whirlwind to get here and actually get out there and pitch. It was everything I thought it was going to be. The adrenaline was there. I was very nervous to start everything, but once I got settled in, I felt comfortable. I was able to throw strikes and attack hitters, so I felt good out there.”

Despite Kazmir’s solid pitching, the Giants (28-18) slipped out of first place in the National League West for the first time since April 25 following back-to-back losses to Los Angeles. The Padres (29-17) surged one game ahead of the Giants and Dodgers, who are now tied for second place. The Giants will look to avoid a sweep -- and their first three-game losing streak of the season -- when they send Anthony DeSclafani to the mound in Sunday afternoon’s series finale.  

San Francisco’s bats couldn’t get much going against Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler, who allowed only one run en route to becoming the first starter to complete seven innings against the Giants this season. Buster Posey added his ninth home run of the year, a two-run shot in the eighth, but it was too little, too late for the Giants.

“I think we’re capable of more in every element of the game over the course of the last two days,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that both of their starting pitchers [Buehler and Trevor Bauer] have done a really good job and just beat us.”

Kazmir, a three-time All-Star, last saw big league action with the Dodgers in 2016, when he logged a 4.56 ERA over 26 starts. He recorded a 2.84 ERA in two outings (one start) for Sacramento this year before receiving a call on Friday night from Kapler, his former Rays teammate, who informed him that he’d be needed in San Francisco on Saturday.

“Through the phone, I could tell that he was smiling,” Kapler said. “It's been a long journey for him, and I'm really kind of proud. Obviously, he and I were teammates a long time ago, and I know that the journey hasn't been the easiest one for him. It's a pretty cool story.”

Kazmir has a 4.00 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.

Still, Kazmir’s Major League dreams were rekindled when he began to play catch with 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.

Kazmir stayed on the comeback trail after joining the Giants on a Minor League deal in February. He said he was drawn to the Giants partly because of his familiarity with Kapler and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who overlapped with Kazmir in Oakland and Los Angeles.

“It's a story of personal perseverance and one of resilience,” Kapler said. “Last year, he was pitching in independent baseball. He got a chance to come to camp with us and worked really hard at his craft. I remember watching his first bullpen in Scottsdale, and it just didn't look too much different from what we saw back in '16. I think it's a testament to his drive and his determination and his willingness to kind of go through some difficult stretches.”

Saturday marked the completion of the second professional resurrection for Kazmir, who also revived his career following a disastrous 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 campaign 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 feels a lot more sweet,” Kazmir said of his second comeback. “It's a lot tougher, going through everything. It's a different game now. There's a lot of things that just aren’t comparable to my first comeback. The game’s changed so much. The talent’s gotten better, and the philosophy has changed. It's different, but I feel grateful and proud that I went through all that.”

Kazmir returned to the Majors with a shaggier look, though he said he was due to have his hair cut by River Cats teammate Anthony Banda on Saturday. It’s unclear what Kazmir’s role with the Giants will be once Webb returns from the IL, but the well-traveled veteran would be more than happy to put off that trim for a bit longer.

“I'm just on cloud nine right now," Kazmir said. “Just to be able to be here, it seems like a dream.”

Worth noting

In a pair of corresponding moves on Saturday, the Giants optioned left-handed reliever Sam Selman to Triple-A Sacramento and designated outfielder Braden Bishop for assignment. Bishop, a native of San Carlos, Calif., was claimed off waivers from the Mariners on Monday and is the older brother of Giants outfield prospect Hunter Bishop. The elder Bishop could still end up staying in the Giants organization if he goes unclaimed once he’s placed back on waivers.