Scott Kazmir looked to be done with baseball.
He hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2016 with the Dodgers, or even in a minor-league game since September 2017, and his body didn’t feel too good when he did, or much better whenever he tried throwing much after that.
Having an ill mom to help care for and a couple babies kept him family-first busy, and when things were stable he was taking it easy when he could, living and surfing in Los Angeles.
Then during last year’s All-Star break, a former teammate, Kendall Graveman, needed someone to play catch with.
“We went to a park and we started throwing and for whatever reason, whether it was surfing, or just staying in shape and working and not doing too much else and giving my body a break, (the ball) was coming out really well," Kazmir said.
“And I was like, ‘All right, well, let’s see where this takes me.’ I couldn’t ignore it. So I just kept going."
Now Kazmir, 36, is hoping his rejuvenated left arm takes him back to the big leagues.
After that July revelation he started on a regular throwing program, working to return to the free and easy delivery he used when reaching the majors with the Devil Rays in 2004, making two All-Star teams.
He kept getting more encouraged, splitting time between homes in Tampa and Houston. An early January visit to the high-tech Driveline facility near Seattle provided data that supported how good he felt and helped him rediscover his once dominating slider.
“I wouldn’t put myself out there or even try to go at this if I didn’t feel like I would be able to play at a high level,” Kazmir said. “That’s where I feel like I’m at, so definitely a lot of confidence. And I feel like I’ll gain even more confidence once I’m able to get my feet wet, see some hitters, see some live work.”
Kazmir said he was clocked at 86-88 mph with his fastball when he started throwing bullpen sessions, made it to 90.9 on Tuesday and expects to keep climbing.
He has already thrown privately for one team (which he declined to identify) and has heard from several others. He may do a group workout in hopes of getting signed in time to report to camp somewhere next month, and he is open to a minor-league deal.
“At this point I’ll do whatever it takes to get back,” Kazmir said. “I know I haven’t seen hitters in however many years. It’s something you need to get back into the reps and be consistent and feel comfortable.”
Kazmir was on a fast track when the Rays got him in trade from the Mets (somewhat famously for Victor Zambrano) in July 2004 and brought him to the majors a few weeks later. He had a winning record in each full season with the Rays, racked up strikeouts, made All-Star teams in 2006 and 2008, and started the first World Series game in franchise history.
But what remained on his four-year, $28.5 million contract soon exceeded his value in the Rays’ calculus, and he was traded in August 2009 to the Angels. Kazmir didn’t do as well there, as injuries and inconsistent performances led to his release. He spent 2012 with the independent league Sugarland Skeeters reinventing his delivery.
That led to his first impressive comeback, as he pitched well for the Indians in 2013 and better for the A’s the next year, making another All-Star team. He cashed in again, getting a three-year, $48 million contract from the Dodgers (and former Rays boss Andrew Friedman), then injuries sidelined him and, after a paperwork trade to Atlanta, he got released again in March 2018.
With career earnings of nearly $100 million, sons Bodhi and Utah growing, and his mom’s cancer in remission, Kazmir easily could have stayed on the beach. While former teammates and opponents have encouraged him to make the comeback, others have had questions.
“Some guys asked me if I needed a loan or something because they’re wondering what the hell I’m doing getting back in," Kazmir said.
Really, though, it’s simple.
“It just feels good to get back on the mound," he said. “It feels like it’s been forever."