GLENDALE, Ariz. – Scott Kazmir has spent a lot of time this spring rummaging through the lost-and-found. He’s convinced his old pitching mechanics are in there somewhere.
The veteran left-hander spent nearly all of the 2016 season, basically, breaking down.
In his first year after signing a three-year, $48 million contract with the Dodgers, the veteran left-hander was beset by an interconnected series of maladies that robbed him of flexibility and distorted his mechanics, leading to a 4.56 ERA and 1.36 WHIP – his highest marks since his career was falling apart with the Angels in 2010 and 2011. He averaged fewer than five innings per start over his last 15 starts, inflammation creeping into his back and neck muscles and essentially ending his season in late August.
“I think overall his body is in a much better place than where he was at the end of last season or most of the season really,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “He was trying to pitch through a bunch of different issues. But I think part of it, I think he also got into some bad habits trying to pitch through some of those issues that we’re trying to correct.”
Kazmir acknowledges that and has spent extended time on the mound this spring with Honeycutt and guest instructors Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne all contributing their expertise to Kazmir’s search for a “simple, athletic” delivery once again.
“I just want to get on the mound more, and to have those guys there to answer any questions and give me feedback is huge,” said Kazmir, who is scheduled to make his first spring start against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night. “It’s just little things mobility-wise that I didn’t have in the past and now I’m retraining myself to use it.”
Kazmir said his issues began with a lack of flexibility in his hips. His attempts to “artificially put yourself in position” to deliver a pitch led to problems in his back and eventually his neck. By the time he went to the DL in August, he couldn’t turn his neck to look at the batter during his delivery.
The physical problems are gone now, Kazmir said, thanks to an off-season of chiropractic visits and acupuncture treatments. He has altered his workouts, adding a series of corrective exercises if he feels his body losing flexibility.
“The physical part is there. Now it’s just training the body to use it again. Doing it the right way,” Kazmir said. “That’s what I kind of told (the Dodgers coaching staff) going in. With all the bad habits I picked up, I don’t just want to find my way as I’m going. I want to cement that in there so I’m not looking back.”
The 33-year-old is not looking around either. There are 10 candidates for the Dodgers’ starting rotation in camp this spring, the kind of depth that could create some anxiety among the individuals involved. Given what he has already been through in his career – including an embarrassing trip to independent baseball in 2011 and sitting out the 2012 season – “this is nothing,” Kazmir said. He is not losing sleep worrying about where he will fit in the picture.
“I don’t even know how to answer that because if I’m doing what I’m capable of doing, if I’m executing then everything will take care of itself,” he said. “It’s not like ‘Where do I see myself in a month?’ I come in. I be myself and I execute.
“Dave Roberts, Honeycutt, myself – we all know when it’s right it’ll be there. It’s not like, ‘Let’s see you go out and compete.’ It’s ‘It’s there now so we’re good.’ That’s just what I’m working to do.”
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