The latest step in the ongoing rehabilitation of Dodgers pitcher Scott Kazmir's delivery took place Thursday morning beneath a blazing sun in the back of the club's training complex at Camelback Ranch.
For five innings, Kazmir toiled against minor league hitters in a simulated game. A radar gun clocked his fastball around 82-84 mph, Manager Dave Roberts said. The atmosphere was quiet, save for the squawks of a bird protecting its nest from intruders and for the grumblings of Kazmir when his pitches refused to cooperate.
Roberts watched the first four innings behind the backstop. After the session wrapped up, Kazmir indicated he felt "better" about his mechanics before rolling away in a golf cart with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Roberts praised Kazmir for the cleanliness of his delivery before he focused on the most alarming aspect of the outing.
"We've still got to see some improvement in the velocity at some point in time," Roberts said. "And I think he'll say the same thing."
After a fitful, injury-marred campaign in 2016, Kazmir pronounced himself healthy upon his arrival this spring. Yet he continues to confound both himself and his employers with his struggles to command the baseball and generate the necessary speed on his fastball.
His velocity sat at 91.4 mph in 2016, according to FanGraphs. He averaged 93 mph for a period during the summer, before discomfort in his neck and back wrecked his season. Now the pitch is nearly 10 mph slower, and even in the low-key environment of a simulated game, that stood out to Roberts.
"To have that much of a discrepancy in velocity, there's got to be something to that," Roberts said.
In the first few weeks of spring, the Dodgers concentrated on Kazmir's mechanics. He completed marathon bullpen sessions with Honeycutt, plus guest instructors Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne, looking to maintain his balance. Both Kazmir and Roberts insisted those sessions proved fruitful. They are still waiting to see improvement in the performance.
With opening day three weeks away, Kazmir is unlikely to break camp as a member of the starting rotation. The last spots appear ticketed for Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood. Kazmir has not pitched in a Cactus League game since March 1, when he could not complete the second inning against San Francisco.
On Thursday morning, he rotated through a trio of minor leaguers in a controlled environment. He gave up a pair of homers in the second inning. In the fourth, he swore at himself when an off-speed pitch skipped over the dirt and shouted "watch out!" when another veered past the catcher and went to the backstop.
Kazmir was able to see progress afterward. He mentioned improvements in his tempo and his ability to repeat mechanics. The Dodgers are hopeful that can lead to more effective pitching.
Kazmir has told team officials that he feels healthy. His arm did not bother him in 2016. It was soreness in his hip that kicked off the chain of injuries that spread to his neck and back. He spent his off-season trying to remedy those areas, which only adds to the confusion of this spring.
"He feels strong," Roberts said. "But it's still not coming out the way we need it to right now."
For the first time since March 3, when he tweaked his back and his oblique, shortstop Corey Seager was allowed to swing a bat. He took 25-30 swings, ran and threw.
Roberts described it as a "medium-sized" step in Seager's recovery. Roberts insisted he was not concerned about Seager's readiness for the season opener April 3.
"We expect him to play a lot of games," Roberts said. "To make sure he's right physically, that's No. 1, as we start the season. I'd rather be short on at-bats and have him healthy than the other way around."