Scott Kazmir was fantastic for the Oakland Athletics on Sunday in Seattle. He had all of his pitches working, he hit 95 with his fastball when he needed to, and he went to an 0-2 count on eight of his first nine batters (six of whom eventually struck out). Overall, he recorded nine strikeouts and no walks in six shutout innings. That's the good news.
Here's the bad news. The left-hander was seen clenching and un-clenching his fist and wiggling around his fingers (both medical terms) in the second half of his outing, and, according to Susan Slusser, his velocity dropped a bit in his last few innings. Here's why:
Triceps tightness for Kazmir.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) April 13, 2014
Same thing Kazmir had during spring and Melvin doesn't think it's a big deal. kazmir wanted to go back out again. Melvin being cautious.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) April 13, 2014
He was pulled after six frames and only 82 pitches in a tight 0-0 game. Under normal circumstances, you'd think he would have at least started the seventh, especially with the powerful lefty Cano leading off. However, given that his last out of the sixth was an almost-homer to right by Brad Miller, and that Fernando Abad was available to shut down Cano (which he did), everything about that cautious decision was smart and worked out well. Kazmir isn't known for his durability, and keeping his pitch count down isn't a bad idea just on principle. If he's feeling tightness, then there's definitely no reason to leave him out there when he's already turned in a quality start in front of this bullpen.
As for Kazmir's prognosis:
Kazmir says triceps issue "is really nothing." Nothing that would affect next start.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) April 13, 2014
I'll be honest, I wouldn't be upset if the team held him out of his next start. At home. Against Houston. The Astros are definitely better (and better offensively) than they were last year, so they shouldn't be taken as lightly as they have been in the last couple of campaigns. But if there was ever a time to be patient with a key player, this would be it. Could Drew Pomeranz be ready to make a spot start if necessary? If not, I'd be OK with Josh Lindblom getting the emergency nod (with the corresponding roster move of Pomeranz going to Triple-A to stretch out now). Or, there is an off-day on Thursday; the A's could just skip Kazmir and let everyone else stay on turn (with Jesse Chavez going on Saturday after Sonny Gray, five days after his upcoming Monday start).
And don't get it twisted -- Kazmir is a key player now. That was very evident today. There was a Colon-sized hole in the rotation that needed to be filled, and the Kaz I saw this afternoon was big enough to fill it. The way he pounded the zone and kept a bunch of quality hitters under lock and key was a thrill to watch. And even when he's not at his best, like in his previous start in Minnesota, he knows how to gut it out and find a way to retire hitters. I don't think he'll go deep into games, but this team is constructed so that he doesn't have to. If he can keep opponents baffled through six innings, this relief corps can close the door for him.
So, we don't know much, but what we think we know seems encouraging. Kazmir was removed mostly as a precaution, and due to the circumstances that was an obvious choice. Everyone seems to think this is no big deal and that Kaz will be fine. All we can do is take those assurances at face value and stay calm until we have more information. Here, I'll let Kaz reassure you himself, via Slusser:
"Everything is fine," Kazmir said in greeting reporters, then added later that he will make his next start. "It's very, very minor," he said. "It's really nothing."
Let's trust him until we have a reason not to.