Facing ex-Halos mates, Kazmir impresses

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Scott Kazmir almost looks like another person now while competing for a rotation spot with the Indians, almost two years after completely flaming out with the Angels.

How different?

"Night-and-day difference," he said. "I'm just a completely different pitcher. I guess the velocity would be different by about 10 mph."

Kazmir -- the same Kazmir who struggled through his first full season with the Angels in 2010, ate himself up trying to work it out, then was released in June 2011 with almost $10 million left on his contract -- pitched four scoreless innings against his former team on Monday and hasn't allowed a run in eight Cactus League frames this spring.

It's not just that, though. He's throwing his fastball in the low 90s, after struggling to reach the mid-80s while with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in 2011, and his delivery looks a lot smoother.

"It looks like he trusts his stuff now, and the release point's a lot better than it used to be," said Angels ace Jered Weaver, who matched his ex-teammate with four scoreless frames. "He worked his butt off, man. He's been working real hard."

During a four-year stretch with the Rays from 2005-08, Kazmir was one of the game's best left-handers, winning 45 games, posting a 3.51 ERA, striking out 9.7 hitters per nine innings and making two All-Star teams.

The Angels acquired him in August 2009 for Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney, and shortly after that, the bottom fell out.

Kazmir went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA in 2010, had a rough spring the following season, gave up five runs in 1 2/3 innings of his 2011 regular-season debut, was charged with 30 runs in 15 1/3 innings at Triple-A Salt Lake, got released and spent the summer of 2012 struggling through a stint of independent ball.

"By the last year with the Angels, I was trying anything I could to try to have something click," Kazmir, now 29, said. "It just wasn't me out there, bottom line. Stuff that came natural just wasn't there."

The Indians took a chance on him in December with a Minor League contract, and early on, it's paying off.

Kazmir said he didn't have any extra motivation going up against the organization that released him. It was just nice to see some familiar faces. For a while, he didn't watch any baseball and hardly spoke with ex-teammates. Doing so would only remind him he wasn't playing and would bring a "sick feeling in my stomach."

A few days ago, though, upon finding out he'd be facing him, Weaver reached out to Kazmir via text message and the two briefly caught up.

"It's good to see him back, man," Weaver said. "He's a good guy."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.