PHOENIX — It was a big day for Indians pitchers Sunday, with nearly all of the candidates to win the final two spots in the rotation on display in split-squad games at Goodyear Ballpark and Maryvale Baseball Park.
At Maryvale, Carlos Carrasco and Scott Kazmir made their exhibition debuts under similar circumstances, but with decidedly different results in a 7-4 victory over the Brewers.
Pitching in his first big league exhibition game since 2011, Kazmir tossed two scoreless innings, allowing a hit and striking out one. Carrasco, who was seeing his first major league action in over a year following Tommy John surgery, failed to reach the second inning after surrendering four runs (three earned) on four hits in the first.
Kazmir, 29, is attempting a comeback after making just one appearance in the majors over the past two seasons.
“I feel better than I’ve felt during my best years, just by how I’m able to complete my delivery,” said Kazmir, who is a two-time All-Star (2006, ’08).
“Everything’s just coming out way more smooth.”
The left-hander said overcompensating for injuries in 2009 started him on a path of destruction. He hasn’t been close to the same pitcher since then, spending last season in the Independent League after getting released by the Angels in 2011.
“It was just a matter of things snowballing with my mechanics,” Kazmir said. “With the time off I was able to get back to myself. I was really able to clear my head and basically just go from scratch.”
After 14 starts in the IL, Kazmir pitched winter ball in Puerto Rico, where he was throwing 94-95 mph.
“I just know that watching him pitch, it’s free and easy and the ball is coming out with a lot of life without a lot of effort,” manager Terry Francona said. “That’s good to see.”
Carrasco’s performance could have been expected. The right-hander hadn’t pitched competitively since September for Double-A Akron in the Eastern League playoffs.
He admitted to being nervous.
“My first time, my first inning, it felt a little weird,” Carrasco said. “But more importantly, I feel good. My arm’s great and everything.”
Carrasco, 26, has held a spot in Cleveland’s rotation before, and likes his chances of returning.
“I feel good (about it),” he said. “I’ll try to keep everything under control. That’s what I need to do, take it start-by-start. I don’t want to think about that. I just want to keep everything under control and not start thinking about the spot too much, just pitch.”
Over in Goodyear against the Reds, Zach McAllister’s exhibition debut was dwarfed by the first appearance of the spring for right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Matsuzaka’s appearance began ominously, with the right-hander hitting the first batter he faced with his first pitch. But he settled in to throw two scoreless innings without allowing a hit.
Like Carrasco, Matsuzaka, 32, is attempting to come back from Tommy John surgery that has limited him to 19 appearances over the past two seasons.
Francona is hoping Dice-K can return to the pitcher he was when he managed him in Boston from 2007-11.
“His stuff across the board was solid,” Francona said. “He had the ability like no other pitcher to wiggle out of jams. It could be bases loaded and nobody out and we’d be sitting on the edge of our seat and he wasn’t.”
General manager Chris Antonetti said prior to camp that McAllister had a leg up on the competition after going 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA in 22 starts for the Indians last year.
The 25-year-old right-hander helped his cause with a sparkling debut in which he allowed just one baserunner on a walk and struck out two over two innings.
The rotation has been pegged as Cleveland’s biggest question mark this season, but Francona likes the options he has for the final two spots.
“Chris (Antonetti) and I, when we talked this winter, we tried to add depth. I thought Chris did a great job. We have a number of young pitchers that we certainly hope just knock the door down and claim a spot.
“We don’t want them just to make the team, we want them to help us win and we want to make sure they’re ready to do that. We’re trying to balance all that together.”