Three years ago Scott Kazmir wondered if he'd ever return to the majors. Now, he has a chance to help his hometown team return to the postseason for the first time in a decade.
The Houston native makes his debut for the visiting Astros on Friday night when they look for a fifth straight victory and continued success over the AL-leading Kansas City Royals.
After spending the 2012 season with independent Sugar Land, Kazmir (5-5, 2.38 ERA) won 25 games the next two seasons with Cleveland and Oakland. Among the majors' ERA leaders, the 31-year-old Kazmir joined his fifth team Thursday after the Athletics dealt him to Houston (54-43) for catching prospect Jacob Nottingham and right-hander Daniel Mengden.
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''I'm really happy,'' Astros manager A.J. Hinch said prior to Thursday's 5-4 win over Boston. ''I feel like we got better. We were able to get one of the best pitchers that has been rumored to be available and join our team in Kansas City. ... That's a big boost.''
Though Kazmir admitted he was taken back by the move, he's excited to return home where he starred for Cypress Falls High School.
''It's been crazy, to be honest with you,'' the left-hander said. ''Playing independent ball and I'm thinking I would never be able to play professionally. And now I'm going back to my hometown and going to play for the Astros.
"It's a complete whirlwind, but I'm excited for the opportunity.''
While the Astros are one game behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West, they lead the wild-card race and have won five of six after heading into the All-Star break on a six-game skid. With Kazmir and All-Star Dallas Keuchel atop the rotation, Houston should feel confident going forward.
''Taking (Kazmir) out of the equation as somebody on the other side and putting him on our team I think is really going to help us," Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Kazmir is 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA in his last seven starts, and has yielded one earned run over 19 1-3 innings while going 1-0 in three this month. He's 0-1 with a 3.14 ERA in two starts against Kansas City (57-37) this season.
After a three-game home sweep of the Royals earlier this season, Houston has outscored them 37-11 during a six-game winning streak.
Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer are batting a combined .422 (19 for 45) against Kazmir. They were 3 for 8 during Thursday's 4-3 loss at St. Louis - the Royals' fourth in the last 16 games.
Alex Rios is 4 for his last 12 against Kazmir, and hitting .419 (18 for 43) in his last 12 contests.
"I'm focusing on seeing the ball and getting a good pitch to hit, and putting a good swing on it," he said.
The Royals have won the last four starts by Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 5.36), who is 2-0 with a 3.70 ERA in those outings. However, the right-hander hopes to be more efficient after he gave up three runs and nine hits in five innings of Saturday's 7-6, 13-inning victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Guthrie is 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA in six starts against Houston.
Hank Conger is 2 for his last 13, but 4 for 6 with a home run when facing Guthrie.
After delivering a tiebreaking solo homer in the bottom of ninth for his fourth hit Thursday, Jose Altuve is batting .414 (12 for 29) with six RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak. He's hit safely in eight consecutive games against the Royals.