SAN FRANCISCO — Giants manager Gabe Kapler called his old teammate Scott Kazmir with wonderful news late Friday night: 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.
But Muncy was the only batter for the World Series champions to reach base in the first three innings against Kazmir, who struck out two in that span.
Kazmir ended up being the hard-luck loser in the rivalry game. He closed with just one earned run in four innings with those two strikeouts, but the Dodgers won 6-3. He threw 55 pitches, 38 for strikes, settling in with a 2.25 ERA. On the other side, Walker Buehler pitched seven innings for Los Angeles, improving to 3-0.
“I threw strikes, which was my main goal,” Kazmir said. “We kind of had the mindset to get two or three [innings]. I was able to get some quick outs. All in all, I was happy with the outing. It’s a proud moment for me.”
“It’s been a long journey for him and really kind of proud,” he said. “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 season 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.
Kapler wasn’t sure how deep into the game Kazmir might work in his return, though he had been built up to about three innings and somewhere in the range of 55 to 60 pitches.
Kazmir was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two outings with one start covering 6⅓ innings for Sacramento.
The reports Kapler received are that Kazmir has reached 91-93 mph on his fastball, which Kapler notes is “not Scott Kazmir circa 2005,” but also not far off from where he was toward the end of his most recent 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 the 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.”
The Giants, a surprising contender for first place in the National League West, will be tested by the Dodgers the rest of this month. Saturday’s game was the second of a three-game series, and they’ll meet for four more in Los Angeles, starting Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.