OAKLAND -- Scott Kazmir says he's having more fun pitching now than when he was a young phenom blowing hitters away with an electric fastball.

He's become a more complete pitcher, and the A's are reaping the rewards from their free agent left-hander.

"He's been great for us," catcher Derek Norris said. "Definitely exceeded any expectations of mine.

"By no means did I think he was terrible because I faced him last year and he was very, very good. But he's done a great job for us. He's eating up innings, he's working good counts, he's getting ahead, he's putting zeros up. He's doing anything and everything you could ask of a guy to come into a new ballclub."

Kazmir, 30, who just two years ago was laboring away in an independent league, is 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA for the A's. The team has won seven times in his eight starts.

"Whenever you bring in a guy like that, you have high expectations for him," manager Bob Melvin said of Kazmir, who signed a $22 million, two-year deal in the offseason. "He's been very impressive. I would say he's probably exceeded (expectations) to this point."

Kazmir earned the lucrative two-year deal because of his bounce-back 2013 season with Cleveland, the team he'll face Saturday. He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA last year for the Indians, making their roster after going nearly two years without pitching in the big leagues.


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A former first-round draft pick who made his major league debut with Tampa Bay at age 20, Kazmir was a two-time All-Star by the time he was 24. He led the major leagues in strikeouts in 2007.

But injuries -- he's made eight trips to the disabled list -- played a role in derailing his career. Traded to the Los Angeles Angels in the middle of the 2009 season, he finally bottomed out soon after. He went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA in 2010 with two D.L. trips mixed in.

A lower back strain put him on the D.L. after one start with the Angels in 2011. After going winless in five minor league rehabilitation starts, he was released.

Kazmir didn't find another suitor until summer of 2012 when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. The numbers there still weren't great, but after playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, the Indians gave him a chance.

Kazmir said his struggles were more mental than physical.

"It was a tough situation," he said. "But it was just mentally you feel like you're on the right pace, you're on the right track and you've just got to let it happen."

He's become a smarter and more mature pitcher.

"I'm not just trying to rear back and throw as hard as I can and make them swing and miss," Kazmir said. "It's actually more fun this way to be able to manipulate the ball a little more and get some quick outs when I need to. I have stuff where I can set up guys to get a double play, stuff that I never had before. I was more just strike 'em out or probably walk 'em. I just expanded my game."

John Jaso, the other half of the A's catching platoon, sees the same thing.

"When he was younger, he just threw as hard as he could and he was successful doing it," said Jaso, who was briefly a teammate of Kazmir in Tampa Bay in 2008. "As you get older and the game ages you, you have to adapt and he's been able to do that. That's really helped him out later on and kind of resurrected his career."

Melvin loves the fact that Kazmir is now capable of winning even on days in which he doesn't have the greatest fastball velocity.

"He finds different ways to do things," Melvin said. "Some days he'll be throwing 94, other days 89, 90. His mix of pitches right now is really making him who he is."

The trip from the top of the mountain to the bottom has not only shaped Kazmir as a pitcher, but provided the inspiration to get back on top.

"You've kind of seen both ends now," he said. "You feel like you've played at a high level and now it's a point where you're just trying to make it however you can. You've had that taste and you want to get back there. That's kind of the whole motivation to go through all that."

Follow Jimmy Durkin on Twitter at twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.

FRIDAY'S GAME
A's (Sonny Gray 4-1)
at Cleveland (Zach McAllister 3-3), 4:05 p.m., CSNCA

HIGHS AND LOWS OF SCOTT KAZMIR
A look at Scott Kazmir's path to the A's:
First-round pick: The New York Mets selected the left-handed Texan with the 15th pick of the 2002 amateur draft.
All-Star: Kazmir was a 2006 and 2008 All-Star with Tampa Bay and led the major leagues with 239 strikeouts in 2007.
Out of the league: Injuries derailed Kazmir, and he was released by the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 and spent 2012 with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.
Resurgence: Kazmir signed a free-agent contract with Cleveland last season and became a force in its rotation, going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA. He signed with Oakland in the offseason.