3/11/2013 7:21 P.M. ET
Facing ex-Halos mates, Kazmir impresses
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
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.
"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."
Madson throws 20 pitches off mound
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ryan Madson threw a 20-pitch bullpen session at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday morning, marking the first time the Angels' potential closer has thrown off a mound in more than five weeks.
Madson threw all fastballs, but he was throwing at an estimated 50-percent intensity, so he doesn't anticipate any issues with next-day soreness.
"I was throwing harder off flat ground," Madson said. "It's just nice and easy, getting back on the hill, so it should be fine."
Madson was 10 months and four bullpen sessions into his recovery from Tommy John surgery when he experienced uncommon elbow soreness following a Feb. 1 bullpen session, prompting him to basically start his throwing program from scratch.
Madson plans to throw off the mound again on Thursday, gradually picking up the intensity level and pitch count, with the hope of getting into some Cactus League games before the schedule runs out.
For now, Madson said it just felt good to throw on a downhill plane again.
"It helped to have more of a purpose, instead of just throwing off flat ground," said Madson, who will start the season on the disabled list. "It felt smooth, felt easy."
Throwing woes not keeping Conger down
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels manager and former catcher Mike Scioscia had an unexpected reaction when asked about Hank Conger's rough Sunday against the Royals behind the plate, when he made three throwing errors to up his spring total to four.
"I like the fact that he's still throwing," Scioscia said.
Scioscia was happy to see Conger maintain his confidence and continue to be aggressive against baserunners, which is half the battle. The other half, perpetually elusive to the 25-year-old switch-hitter who's looking to finally stick in the big leagues, is finding that consistent release point.
On Sunday, one of his throws to second and two of his throws to first landed in the outfield, allowing the runner to advance. It was three of at least five errant throws Conger has made in Cactus League play.
"I feel confident," Conger said. "I mean, I kept throwing yesterday. My arm feels great. The throws were hard, but they were in the outfield. Everything feels good right now. As long as I look at it as just playing catch and not worry about anything else -- mechanics, mental stuff, things like that. It's just get up, play catch like you normally do every single day of your life."
Conger is hitting well, as usual, going 7-for-17 with two homers and a team-leading 10 RBIs. And he's happy with his receiving skills and footwork behind the plate. But throwing continues to be an issue for Conger, seemingly the only thing that can prevent him from winning the backup job behind Chris Iannetta.
Ironically enough, the other contender, John Hester, throws accurately but without much arm strength.
"I feel like I've done a great job as far as receiving, blocking, getting on the same page with the pitchers," Conger said. "So it is tough when you're doing so many good things right, and the throwing part is kind of getting magnified right now. But that's when your mental ability just has to block it out, and understand that you are doing good things and not let the throwing bring you down totally."
• The Angels announced three more cuts on Monday, whittling their Spring Training roster to 50 players. Left-handed reliever Brandon Sisk, acquired from the Royals for Ervin Santana, was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. Center fielder Travis Witherspoon, ranked eighth in the Angels' system by MLB.com, was optioned to Double-A Arkansas. Starting-pitching prospect A.J. Schugel, ranked 16th, was reassigned to Minor League camp and will probably start the season in the Triple-A rotation.
• Prior to Monday's game against the Indians, the Angels played a "B" game in the back fields of the Indians' complex in Goodyear, Ariz., losing 3-0. Starter Barry Enright gave up one run on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings, and Brad Mills was charged with two unearned runs in four frames. Tommy Field (shortstop), J.B. Shuck (left field), Luis Jimenez (first base), Scott Cousins (center field), Trent Oeltjen (designated hitter), Luke Carlin (catcher), Kaleb Cowart (third base), Taylor Lindsey (second base) and Randal Grichuk (right field) made up the starting lineup.
• Josh Hamilton was originally slated to start Monday's game, his third straight in the starting lineup, at designated hitter. Just before the game, though, he moved to right field. "We figured he was going to DH when we talked yesterday," manager Mike Scioscia said, "but he came into the park today and felt really good and wanted to just play right field and try to get some throws in, which he did and was good for him."
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.