OAKLAND -– With everyone speculating on what Scott Kazmir’s future might hold, the A’s veteran lefty remains very much dialed in to the present.
Delivering what manager Bob Melvin called his best performance in an A’s uniform, Kazmir dominated the Seattle Mariners over eight masterfully crafted innings in a 4-0 victory Thursday night at the Coliseum.
From the get-go, Kazmir said he felt locked in. He retired 23 of the 26 hitters he faced, and one of Seattle’s three base runners got erased on a double play in the eighth. He surrendered just two hits and a hit batsmen, struck out seven and breezed through an effortless night’s work in a game that wrapped in just 2 hours, 17 minutes. “That’s probably the best we’ve seen him here,” Melvin said. “He was on it from the very beginning. … We’ve seen some great games out of him. That’s the best I’ve seen him.”
Such a performance could have only encouraged the pitching-hungry teams who might be eyeing Kazmir as a potential trade-deadline addition to their rotation. With the A’s (37-45) still in last place in the American League West, Kazmir is one of the top names mentioned among starting pitchers on the trading block.
The A’s, who have won 12 of their past 18, remain focused on trying to claw their way back into contention. General manager Billy Beane maintains he has yet to wave the white flag on the season and become a seller.
If the A’ are to make a push, overtaking the Mariners in the AL West standings would be a good first step. By taking the opener of this four-game series, the A’s pulled to within a half-game of the Mariners for fourth place.
They also broke through early against Seattle lefty Roenis Elias (4-6), as Josh Phegley’s two-run double in the first gave Kazmir an early cushion to work with. That was encouraging for a team that came in 4-14 in games started by a left-hander. Marcus Semien snapped a 45-game homerless streak in the fifth and Mark Canha drove in a seventh-inning run with his first career triple.
But the story was Kazmir (5-5), who has posted a 1.88 ERA over his past seven starts and possesses a 2.56 mark overall. He said he doesn’t get distracted with his name circulating through the rumor mill.
“I don’t even let it bother me,” Kazmir said. “We’ve got enough going on as it is. Getting prepared for those days in between (starts), and especially going out there that day, you’re not thinking about it at all. You’re just worried about executing.”
That he did. Rather than rely heavily on his slider against right-handed hitters, Kazmir concentrated on spotting his cutter on the inside corner to righties, setting them up to then chase fastballs and breaking balls on the outer half.
“He had everything working, and his change of speeds was pretty impressive,” said Phegley, his catcher.
Seeing such a dominant performance from the 31-year-old Kazmir makes it hard to believe he’s notched just three complete games (and one shutout) over his 11-year major league career.
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The shutout came July 3, 2006 against Boston, a two-hitter while he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. He threw two complete games with Oakland last season, a 1-0 loss in which he threw eight innings against the White Sox, and a victory over Detroit in which he allowed one run on six hits.
He was at 105 pitches after eight innings Thursday. Melvin said he was willing to let his veteran go back out there for the ninth. Kazmir said he didn’t have much left in the tank.
“I thought that was enough,” he said. “I was thinking about it. I felt like that was probably the time.”
His performance continued a stellar season for the lefty. Now the question is how much longer he’ll be continuing that season wearing green and gold.