SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Late Friday night, Gabe Kapler called old teammate Scott Kazmir with wonderful news: The veteran left-hander was needed in San Francisco to start the next day.
The Giants called up the 37-year-old Kazmir from Triple-A Sacramento to make his first big league appearance since 2016, when he went 10-6 with a 4.56 ERA over 26 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who just so happened to be his opponent Saturday at Oracle Park.
“It was actually pretty gratifying to be able to deliver that to him and actually through the phone I could tell that he was smiling,” said Kapler, who played with Kazmir for Tampa Bay in 2009.
Kazmir quickly surrendered a two-out splash homer to Max Muncy in the first inning — the ball into McCovey Cove beyond right field traveled an estimated 423 feet with an exit velocity of 108.2 mph.
Kazmir pitched four innings, allowing only one run and two hits. He walked none, struck out two and exited after 55 pitches against the World Series champions in a 6-3 loss.
“This whole day has been a whirlwind to get me here and actually get out and pitch,” Kazmir said. “It was everything I thought it was going to be. The adrenaline was there. Very nervous to start everything, but once I got settled in I felt comfortable and was able to throw strikes and attack hitters.”
Kapler, who was teammates with Kazmir when both were in Tampa Bay, applauded the comeback.
“It’s been a long journey for him and really kind of proud,” Kapler said before the game. “He and I were teammates a long time ago and I know that the journey hasn’t been the easiest one for him. It’s a pretty cool story.”
Highly touted when he was drafted in the first round by the New York Mets in 2002 out of high school in Houston, Kazmir is now with his seventh major league club in 13 years.
A three-time All-Star, Kazmir pitched in independent ball last year, determined to make a comeback.
Plagued by elbow injuries that derailed him in 2011 and had him pitching in independent ball in 2012, Kazmir made 32 starts in 2014 for Oakland and 31 between the Athletics and Houston the next year.
He pitched last year for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre of the Constellation Energy League in Sugar Land, Texas. Kazmir went 2-1 with a 4.20 ERA over four appearances and three starts.
“He had the one blemish against Muncy. Other than that, he attacked the zone and did a nice job getting synced up with (catcher Buster Posey),” Kapler said. “It was a lot for him. There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of adrenaline. He brought that to the game and he was able to channel it and use it to his advantage.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was equally impressed.
“I was happy for Scott,” Roberts said. “It takes a lot for a guy who’s playing the game, coming back, for the love of the game and not monetary reasons. He made a bad pitch but outside of that he kept us at bay. That was good for him.”
Kazmir was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two outings with one start covering 6 1/3 innings for Sacramento.
The reports Kapler received were that Kazmir had reached 91-93 mph on his fastball, which Kapler notes is “not Scott Kazmir circa 2005 but also not far off where he was toward the end of his last major league stint. His changeup and delivery have been solid, and he’s “strong and healthy,” Kapler said.
Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts with 239 for the Rays in 2007.
At 37 years, 118 days, Kazmir became the oldest Giants pitcher to start a game since Tim Hudson on Oct. 1, 2015, at 40 years, 79 days.
“It’s going to be a bit of a whirlwind for him,” Kapler said.
The Giants admire how Kazmir stuck with it over years to give himself another shot — and Kapler certainly appreciated the pitcher’s work ethic during spring training. In fact, Kapler recalled Saturday the first bullpen Kazmir threw in Scottsdale, Arizona, three months ago resembling Kazmir at his top 2016 form.
“It’s a fantastic story, it’s a story of perseverance and one of resilience,” Kapler said. “It’s a testament to his drive and his determination and his willingness to kind of go through some difficult stretches. It’s not easy to be an established major league pitcher with a long career, a lot of service time, made a ton of money and then go back to independent ball to try to get another shot.”
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