For the first time in over two years, left-hander Scott Kazmir is scheduled to appear in an MLB game tonight. The now-29-year-old former pitching phenom will be the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians at Houston at 7:05 p.m., as the Tribe looks to break a five-game losing streak.
Officially, Kazmir has returned to the Cleveland Indians’ 25-man roster today, taking the spot of infielder Cord Phelps, who goes back down to Columbus now that Jason Kipnis has returned to the lineup.
Kazmir was quickly placed on the DL this season retroactive to April 2 as he strained his right rib cage just before Opening Day. He made one rehab appearance in Columbus on April 15, posting an effective 5-inning start with only one run and five hits allowed, against zero walks and five strikeouts.
Fans and the coaching staff appear eager to see Kazmir compete again at the major league level. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training, seemingly a long-shot to ever make the roster, but emerged with a 3.46 ERA in 13.0 IP out in Arizona to win the No. 5 rotation battle.
“He’s not going to back down to anybody,” manager Terry Francona said Friday, per a notebook from the Akron Beacon Journal‘s Sheldon Ocker. “The biggest thing is getting him stretched out again, so he can go deeper in games. So I think he’s very excited about this.”
Additionally, it’s also fitting that Kazmir’s long-awaited return will take place in his hometown of Houston. He graduated from Cypress Falls High School in 2002, becoming the 15th-overall pick in the MLB draft, and then returned home in 2012 to play for the Sugarland Skeeters, an independent team in a nearby suburb. Many family members are expected to attend Saturday’s game.
“You go out there the first time you want to show out, you want to do real [well],” Kazmir told MLB.com’s Gene Duffy. “At the same time, you don’t want to overthrow. You want to stay within yourself and get your game. You have to slow back on that adrenaline.”
While he’s no Satchel Paige, Joe Nuxhall or Jose Rijo, Kazmir’s 2-plus year absence — dating back to April 3, 2011, with the Los Angeles Angels — still will put him on an elite short list of MLB pitchers all-time. Many Indians fans also are hoping for his debut to spark the suddenly struggling 5-10 team.
[Related: On Scott Kazmir and My Impending Middle Age]