The Braves saw enough of veteran pitcher Scott Kazmir this spring to come to a conclusion: They didn’t want him.
They released Kazmir after he left Saturday’s game with “arm fatigue,” deciding to dump the left-hander despite owing him $16 million.
Kazmir missed the entire 2017 season with the Dodgers because of assorted injuries and presumably would’ve had to open the 2018 season on the DL after his early exit from Saturday’s Grapefruit League game against the Yankees.
But rather than deal with the injury-plagued pitcher, who couldn’t be sent to the minors without his consent, had no desire to pitch in the minors and had almost no bullpen experience, the Braves decided Saturday afternoon to cut him loose.
After leaving Saturday’s game, Kazmir was seen exiting the clubhouse with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who was a Dodgers executive last season when the pitcher was sidelined all year by ailments, including a bad hip and, yes, “arm fatigue.”
Meeting later with reporters, Kazmir gave no indication that he might be released and said he would be ready to pitch April 10 “for sure” when the Braves would need a fifth starter for the first time.
But it won’t be him now. Anibal Sanchez, recently signed to a minor league deal, will move into that role and make at least a few starts before the Braves get rookie Luiz Gohara (sprained ankle) off the disabled list as soon as late April.
The Braves expect top pitching prospect Mike Soroka to be ready for a call-up at some point this season, and Kazmir didn’t fit in their plans. Releasing him now gives him a chance to catch on with another team.
Kazmir blamed himself for throwing what he said was a 90-100 pitch bullpen session Wednesday, an unusually heavy load just two days after he threw five innings in a minor league game and three days before he was to throw multiple innings against the Yankees on Saturday.
He said he didn’t know until Friday that he was going to pitch Saturday.
“I kind of blew it out my last bullpen session Wednesday,” he said. “Honestly didn’t know when I was going to pitch again until yesterday. That was my fault. Should’ve assumed, just didn’t know for sure. Just pretty tired out there.”
The three-time former All-Star’s fastball velocity has been down in the 86-88 mph range for most of the spring and was below that Saturday.
The Braves couldn’t have simply sent him to the minors to make a start before April 10 because he’s long been out of minor league options and would have to clear waivers, and besides that, Kazmir would have to consent to being sent to the minors.
The Braves owe him $16 million after getting Kazmir from the Dodgers as part of the financially motivated trade that allowed the Braves to get out from under the last two years of Matt Kemp’s contract.
When asked after coming out of Saturday’s game if he’d be ready for opening day, Kazmir said, “We’ll see what happens.”
But a few minutes later when asked if he could be ready to possibly start April 10, he said, “For sure. That feels like forever away. I mean, I feel like I’m good to go.”
Kazmir said it felt like he was “throwing underwater” against the Yankees. “Didn’t do myself any favor for the amount of pitches I threw Wednesday,” he said.
When asked how far back this might set him, he said, “I don’t know, we’ll see how I feel in a couple of days. As of right now I feel like I’m already built up, I threw five innings on the back field (Monday), I’m already up to 75, 80 pitches (in a game). So yeah, couple days just to kind of let it rest, maybe even just one day.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker said after the game, “We’ll just evaluate and talk about it, see where we’re at.”
But about an hour later, word came from a person familiar with the situation that Kazmir had been released.
Arm fatigue was among the ailments cited for Kazmir’s season-long stay on the DL in 2017 with the Dodgers, though a balky hip was the primary issue, and he said that this episode of arm fatigue was nothing like last year’s.
“Yeah, that (in 2017) wasn’t even necessarily like arm fatigue, that had a lot to do with the hip and everything like that,” he said. “Completely healthy (now), just more or less overdoing it between my (games) this go-around.”
Kazmir was thought to be in line for one of the last two spots in the bullpen to begin the season, but the Braves have other candidates – all of them more experienced as reliever -- they could use in to fill those spots, including right-handers Shane Carle and Sanchez and left-hander Rex Brothers.
Kazmir had a 4.66 ERA in four unimpressive Grapefruit League starts before Saturday, when he entered in relief of Julio Teheran to start the sixth inning. He gave up a double to the first batter, Aaron Hicks, then picked off Hicks at second base and walked the next batter, Gary Sanchez.
After throwing an 83-mph wild pitch inside on the first pitch to the next batter, Kazmir tried to loosen his arm by rotating it at the shoulder as he walked back to the mound. He got that hitter to fly out and induced a groundout from the next batter to get out of the inning unscathed, throwing almost exclusively breaking balls to the last two batters following the wild pitch.
“Yeah, I was like, all right, change-up’s working, let’s get some outs,” he said.
Kazmir’s fastball averaged 91.4 mph two years ago with the Dodgers, but topped out at 87 mph last spring when his hip flared up, the injury he believes was the root of his subsequent problems last season, including the arm fatigue and back soreness, whichs he thinks came about by compensating for the hip.
The Braves said they weren’t counting on Kazmir in December when they got him in the Kemp trade along with pitcher Brandon McCarthy, utility man Charlie Culberson and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez immediately was designated for assignment, a prerequisite for the aging slugger to waive his no-trade clause.
Now, Kazmir will be dumped, too.
McCarthy has pitched well this spring and will begin the season as the Braves’ No. 3 starter and Culberson will be a primary utility infielder.