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Three up, three down: Kazmir to make return

Miggy going for third straight batting title while Dodgers find cost for Kershaw rising

Up: Scott Kazmir

The left-hander is one of 12 players on Cleveland's Opening Day roster who did not appear in a game with the Indians last year.

Kazmir was an under-the-radar addition for the Indians, who made a major statement with offseason additions that included outfielders Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs, first baseman Nick Swisher, designated hitter Mark Reynolds, utility man Mike Aviles and right-handed starter Brett Myers.

A one-time phenom, Kazmir has been slowed by injuries. He appeared in one game with the Angels in 2011, and last year pitched for the independent Sugarland (Texas) Skeeters, where Roger Clemens was his teammate briefly.

The Indians saw enough this spring to give Kazmir a rotation spot. He struck out 13 and walked one in 13 innings of Spring Training action.

A first-round Draft choice of the New York Mets in 2002 -- the 15th player taken overall -- Kazmir was part of the package the Mets sent to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano in July 2004. A two-time All-Star, Kazmir had five consecutive double-digit win seasons, the first four with the Rays, for whom he struck out out 874 batters in 834 innings before being traded to the Angels in August 2009.

Kazmir is scheduled to face Tampa Bay in his Indians debut on Saturday.

Down: New York Yankees

It's been painful already for the Yankees. It's not merely the fact they have seven players on the disabled list -- tied with the Miami Marlins for the most in the Majors -- but it is who they are missing. Among the Yankees ailing are fourth-fifths of the primary top five in their batting order from last year -- shortstop Derek Jeter (leadoff), center fielder Curtis Granderson (second), third baseman Alex Rodriguez (third) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (fifth).

While the Yankees and Marlins are at the top of the list of ailing teams, San Diego and Toronto both have six players on the disabled list, and the New York Mets, Arizona, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Boston have five each. At the other extreme, Philadelphia, Washington, Colorado, Detroit, Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Seattle have only one.

St. Louis is close to the Yankees in terms of key losses. In addition to the free-agent loss of right-hander Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals will be without Chris Carpenter, most likely for the season and perhaps forever, because of numbness in his neck and shoulder, and closer Jason Motte for an unspecified period with a right elbow strain. For all the concern about the loss of players to injuries in the World Baseball Classic, only three of the disabled players suffered injuries during Classic duty, and none can be singled out as a Classic-caused injury. Teixeira suffered a partial tendon tear in his right wrist, Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie a strained left rib cage and Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez a torn right thumb ligament. Lawrie could be back this week, and Ramirez and Teixeira by sometime in May.

Up: Miguel Cabrera

The American League MVP of 2012 has put to rest the early concerns that Comerica Park wasn't conducive to offensive numbers. He has hit .323 with 183 home runs in his five years with the Tigers.

Cabrera comes into the season having won back-to-back batting titles. Can he make it three in a row?

There has not been a right-handed hitter to win three consecutive batting titles since Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals won six in a row from 1920-25.

Cabrera is the seventh right-handed hitter to win back-to-back batting titles since Hornsby's streak. The other six were Nomar Garciaparra of Boston (1999-2000), Bill Madlock of the Chicago Cubs (1975-76), Roberto Clemente of Pittsburgh (1964-65), Tommy Davis of the Los Angeles Dodgers (1962-63), Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees (1939-40) and Al Simmons of the Philadelphia A's (1930-31).

Down: Complete games

Colorado and Milwaukee both failed to have a complete game in 2012, only the fifth and sixth teams to go through a season without one. All of those occurrences have come in the past six seasons. San Diego didn't have a complete game in 2011, and Washington, Florida and Texas didn't have one in 2007.

It didn't used to be that way. In 1968, for example, Bob Gibson was never removed from the mound during a game. He made 34 starts, pitching 28 complete games and being removed for a pinch-hitter the six other times, including once in the 11th inning. Gibson also was hit for in the seventh inning twice and eighth inning three times.

Last season, Cincinnati and Detroit led the Major Leagues with nine complete games. Since the start of 2000, only two pitchers have had more than nine complete games in a season: CC Sabathia (10 in 2008 with Cleveland/Milwaukee) and James Shields (11 in 2011 with Tampa Bay).

There were 27 pitchers with more than nine complete games in the 1990s, 154 in the '80s, 382 in the '70s, and 313 in the '60s, the start of the expansion era with the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators added to the American League in 1961 and New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s to the National League in 1962.

Up: Washington Nationals

Talk about a major turnaround. The Nationals, who won the NL East last year, are the consensus favorite to win their division again this year. Big deal? It is if you have been a long-time Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals fan.

Last season was only the second postseason appearance in the 44-year history of the franchise, which came into existence as an NL expansion team, along with San Diego, in 1969. The 98 regular-season wins last year was a franchise best. The Expos/Nats have had only 15 winning seasons, and last year was the first in the eight years the team has been in Washington.

With the Nationals' postseason appearance last year, the longest postseason droughts belong to Kansas City, which hasn't been back since beating St. Louis in the 1985 World Series, and Pittsburgh, which hasn't had a winning record since it won three NL East titles in a row from 1990-92.

Down: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers would like to sign left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a long-term contract, but the cost of doing business keeps rising.

The Dodgers knew they were setting some type of a negotiation level for Kershaw when they signed free agent Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract in December. That deal, however, has been overshadowed in recent weeks.

First Seattle signed Felix Hernandez to a new deal in February that guarantees him $175 million over seven years. Then came last week's extension for Justin Verlander in which Detroit guaranteed the right-hander $180 million over the next seven seasons.

The Verlander deal will carry weight. Two years ago, he won the AL Cy Young Award (and the AL MVP Award) and Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award. Last year, they both finished second in the Cy Young Award voting. A key for Kershaw is that he is 25, five years younger than Verlander. He can go on the free-agent market during the 2014-15 season, during which he will turn 27.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
Read More: Washington Nationals, CC Sabathia, James Shields, Brett Wallace, Jose Altuve, Bud Norris, Miguel Cabrera