CLEVELAND -- Scott Kazmir took the mound at Progressive Field on Friday night, staring down the team that gave up on him two years ago. It was an opportunity for the left-hander to show how far he has come in his career renaissance with the Indians.
Kazmir deviated from the script.
In what has been a forgettable week for Cleveland, Kazmir added another layer, turning in a disappointing performance that sent the Indians to a 5-2 loss against the Angels. It marked the fifth defeat in a row for the reeling Tribe, which entered this weekend series hoping to swiftly turn the page on the four-game sweep just dealt by Detroit.
"Things will turn around," Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. "It's just about keeping pressing forward."
After Kazmir allowed five runs in the first inning and bowed out before the end of the fourth due to fatigue, Cleveland is now trying to determine how best to proceed with its rotation. Kazmir has turned in a fairytale performance to this point -- the kind of season worthy of consideration for the Comeback Player of the Year -- but the lefty has admittedly hit a wall.
The Indians (62-54) lost breakout starter Corey Kluber to a right middle finger sprain earlier this week, and is is unclear when the pitcher will be able to return from the disabled list. Righty Zach McAllister could not get out of the third inning against the Tigers on Thursday, and Cleveland endured a 14-inning loss to Detroit on Wednesday.
Even with his own arm plotting against him, Kazmir wanted to push forward.
"We were in a tough spot," Kazmir said. "I felt like, kind of leading up to the fifth day, that I can go out there and gut it out, and it just didn't work out. It was something where I just tried to battle through, every single pitch, and just tried to get quick outs. It just didn't work."
Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco -- summoned from Triple-A prior to Friday's game -- offered five shutout innings of relief to finish the game, saving a tired bullpen some work. After the loss, Tribe manager Terry Francona noted that the team is hoping to give Kazmir some extra rest before his next start, and that Carrasco is not heading back to the Minors.
That makes it possible that Carrasco could temporarily slide into Kazmir's rotation slot for Wednesday's road game against the Twins.
"He wanted to answer the bell today because he knew it was important," Francona said of Kazmir. "But I think we'll go back and see what we can do to try to give him maybe a couple [extra] days this time through. I think it'll be good for him. I don't think any of us thought he would go through the whole year and go every five days. I don't think that was realistic."
Francona emphasized that Kazmir was not injured.
The Angels, who entered the night having dropped 10 of their past 13 contests, pounced on Kazmir with their five runs in the first. That was more than sufficient for Los Angeles right-hander Jered Weaver, who glided through the Tribe's lineup with only a handful of hiccups. Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera each connected for solo home runs, but that was hardly enough for the Indians.
Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011, with his final appearance for the club falling on April 3, that season. In that outing, which sent the left-hander on a tailspin that led him to independent ball last summer, he surrendered five runs in 1 2/3 innings in a brutal showing against the Royals.
Kazmir's performance against the Angels (52-62) on Friday was more reminiscent of that ill-fated outing than a reflection of what he has accomplished in this comeback season with Cleveland. Entering Friday's setback, Kazmir had gone 4-0 with a sterling 1.93 ERA and .173 opponents' batting average across his previous nine turns in the rotation.
"It's tough to see any player go through what Scott went through," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. "It was really rough on him, and obviously disappointing for us. For a pitcher to really just re-discover himself and pitch as well as Scott [has this season] is really just a function of a lot of hard work and determination."
In 2011 with the Angels, Kazmir logged only 17 innings between the Major and Minor Leagues. Last year, while he worked to regain a consistent delivery and rediscover his prior velocity, Kazmir worked 86 2/3 innings between stints with the Sugar Land Skeeters in independent ball and Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
After Friday's outing, Kazmir has thrown 114 innings for Cleveland this season.
"It just feels like about now, I'm going through a little bit of a dead-arm stage," Kazmir said.
In the first inning, Kazmir needed 40 pitches to get through nine L.A. batters, allowing five hits along the way. Mark Trumbo delivered a two-run single and Josh Hamilton (mired in a 2-for-26 slump entering the game) crushed a three-run home run, putting the Indians in a fast 5-0 hole.
Kazmir (7-5) settled down and gave Cleveland three-plus innings, but the damage was done and Francona turned to his bullpen one batter into the fourth. Righty Matt Albers finished the frame without relinquishing a run and Carrasco followed with five shutout innings for the Tribe.
"It feels good," said Carrasco, who entered the evening with a 9.10 ERA in six starts for the Indians this season. "They told me, 'You're going to pitch out of the bullpen.' So I did it. And I picked my teammates up."
Over the past week, Cleveland's offense has been quieted by a string of strong starters.
It began with Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez on Aug. 2, and continued earlier this week, when Cleveland faced Detroit's fierce foursome of Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. The Indians, who have managed only 19 runs in the past eight games, again struggled against Weaver (7-5) in his seven innings.
For Kazmir, this was a shot at some redemption against his former team.
"There wasn't any hard feelings," Kazmir said.
For the Indians as a group, this was a chance at moving on from a tough series against the Tigers.
Cleveland fell short in both regards.