SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Scott Kazmir did not allow himself to consider giving up, but there were times last year, while he was suiting up for the Sugar Land Skeeters in Independent ball, when the big leagues seemed a lifetime away.
"I felt like I was making the right steps," Kazmir said. "But at the same time, in the clubhouse, at a stadium in the Atlantic League, watching the big league game on TV, it seemed like it was a long way away. That's just shows how far I've come in the past year."
On Monday, the Indians announced that Kazmir had earned the fifth spot in the team's starting rotation, initiating one of baseball's most intriguing comeback stories of the coming season. Once one of the American League's rising stars, Kazmir's unexpected fade, and subsequent release by the Angels in 2011, sent him on a path of rediscovery.
After a stint with the Skeeters, and winter ball in Puerto Rico, where he was managed by Edwin Rodriguez -- Cleveland's Double-A Akron manager -- Kazmir was given a second chance by the Indians. The left-hander showed improved command and velocity this spring, beating out a considerable cast of candidates as a non-roster invitee.
"It's a really great story," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "As we told Scott when we met with him, he deserves a ton of credit."
Kazmir will make his first start on April 6 against the Rays -- his former team of six seasons. Cleveland will wait until then to add the lefty to the roster. In the meantime, right-hander Carlos Carrasco -- sidelined all of last season with a right elbow injury -- will begin the year on the Opening Day roster in order to serve a six-game suspension leftover from an incident in 2011.
As soon as the suspension is off the books, Carrasco will be sent to Triple-A Columbus.
"We didn't want to be in a position later in the year," Antonetti said, "when Carlos is ready to contribute at the Major League level and we had that opportunity, to have to deal with the suspension. We wanted to try to get that out of the way now."
From 2005-08, Kazmir was a standout starter for Tampa Bay, going 45-34 with a 3.51 ERA over 689 2/3 innings and 742 strikeouts, including a league-leading 239 in '07. Kazmir then went 19-24 with a 5.54 ERA in 55 outings between '09-11. After he went 0-5 with a 17.02 ERA in five starts at Triple-A Salt Lake in '11, he was released by the Angels.
"I feel like I've already hit bottom," Kazmir said. "There's nowhere but up now."
This spring, while featuring a fastball that sat around 91-92 mph, Kazmir allowed nine runs (eight earned) on 29 hits with 23 strikeouts and only three walks in 21 innings, which covers four Cactus League appearances and a pair of Minor League outings. Kazmir was arguably Cleveland's most consistent starter this preseason, helping him win the final rotation job.
Kazmir said being given a spot on the team is one of the best moments of his career.
"This is right up there, if not the biggest," Kazmir said. "It's something where, knowing where I was a couple years ago and being able to be here now, it's unbelievable. It just goes to show that I guess hard work does pay off."
Indians keep Giambi with DL move on busy day
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona believes Jason Giambi will be an important part of the club this season. The veteran designated hitter just won't be a part of Cleveland's Opening Day roster.
On Monday, the Indians purchased Giambi's contract from Triple-A Columbus and promptly placed him on the 15-day disabled list, giving him the regular season's first week to rest a lower back strain. The 42-year-old Giambi will be eligible to be activated on April 9 and the Tribe expects that he will be ready by that time.
"We're trying to mostly stay ahead of this thing," Francona said. "The last couple days he's kind of laid low, and we anticipate that a little bit more for a couple more days, and then we'll ease him back in. He's been swinging the bat fine, and I don't think we want anything to interupt that."
The Indians designated outfielder Ezequiel Carrera for assignment in order to vacate a spot on the 40-man roster for Giambi.
Giambi will eventually rejoin Cleveland's bench as a part-time designated hitter and pinch-hitter. For Opening Day, the Indians will have a three-man bench featuring backup catcher Lou Marson, along with versatile utility men Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn. Cleveland will need to add Raburn (a non-roster invitee) to the 40-man roster prior to Opening Day.
Raburn, who can play multiple infield spots and outfield corners, impressed the Indians this spring by hitting .359 (14-for-39) with four home runs, five doubles and 11 RBIs in Cactus League play.
"He's got a short, quick stroke," Francona said. "I think it's a swing that can lend itself to maybe not playing every day. This is a guy that a year ago came out of Spring Training as an everyday player [with Detroit], and everybody kept raving about him and he was set to have a big year. He got off to a slow start. That's part of the reason we were able to get him. His versatility really helps us."
Raburn earned a bench job over infielder Cord Phelps, who was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Monday. This spring, Phelps hit .375 (18-for-48) with three homers, eight extra-base hits and seven RBIs for the Indians, making Monday's meeting a tough one for Francona.
"He couldn't have played better," Francona said. "That was the messge we told him. that was a tough one for us. Cord's future is really bright. He was about as professional as you can be, and we're really proud of him."
Cleveland also optioned catcher Yan Gomes -- acquired from Toronto in an offseason trade -- to Triple-A.
"We think he can be an everyday catcher," Francona said. "To have the guy sit right now is not helping his development. To have him go play will be really good for him."
Hagadone, Shaw added to bullpen roster
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians plan on opening this season with eight relievers in their bullpen.
On Monday, Cleveland informed left-hander Nick Hagadone and Bryan Shaw that they will be among the team's relievers on the Opening Day roster. With both of those two pitchers in the fold, the Indians have taken a unique approach for the onset of the regular season.
"The versatility of Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn allows us to do that and carry the extra reliever," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti explained. "Those guys cover us at a lot of different positions."
Aviles and Raburn, who will begin this season on Cleveland's bench, offer positional flexibility that makes it possible for the Indians to play a man short in terms of position players. Aviles can handle second base, shortstop, third base and, if needed, the corner-outfield spots. Raburn has more experience in the outfield corners, and can play second and third base.
Cleveland's projected Opening Day bullpen will include closer Chris Perez, setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith, right-handers Matt Albers and Cody Allen and lefty Rich Hill, along with Hagadone and Shaw.
"One of our strengths, we hope, is our bullpen," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Through eight Cactus League outings, Hagadone has turned in eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks. Shaw, who was acquired from the D-backs as part of a December trade, has piled up 14 strikeouts against just one walk with a 1.00 ERA through eight Cactus League appearances this spring.
Quote to note
"I feel like the way I've progressed over the last couple of years, and the way I've progressed during Spring Training, it's only going to get better. I really feel that way. It's exciting. It's exciting to feel that way and to be that confident, but I truly believe it.
-- Indians left-hander Scott Kazmir
• The Indians are in the process of neogitating a new Minor League contract with starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was released from his previous deal on Sunday. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said he is in talks with agent Scott Boras and hopes to have an agreement within the next few days to keep Matsuzaka in the Tribe's farm system.
"The hope would be that we can get this done and let him go pitch," Indians manager Terry Francona sad. "I actually told him, I said, 'It'll be fun to watch you get back to being Dice-K.' I reminded him of who he was. I remember in his first year, when he gave up runs, it was like a surprise. He had a look about him. He was Dice-K.
"I would like to see him get that feeling back, because as an organization, we'd be getting another top-flight pitcher."
• On Monday, the Indians released veteran reliever Matt Capps from the Minor League contract he signed with the club on Jan. 31. Similar to Matsuzaka, Cleveland can now avoid paying Capps a $100,000 retention bonus if he re-signs and accepts a Minor League assignment. The Indians have maintained interest in keeping the former closer in the fold.
"We're trying to work through the same thing with Matt," Antonetti said. "We have interest in keeping him in the organization, but we would have to sign him to a new contract. We're trying to do that."
• The Indians have told left-hander David Huff and outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, who are both out of Minor League options, that they are not in the team's plans for the start of the season. Carrera was designated for assignment on Monday, removing him from the 40-man roster. Antonetti said he was trying to find a trading partner for both players.
"For Ezequiel and David," Antonetti said, "we've informed both guys that they, at this point, are unlikely to make the Opening Day roster unless something unexpected happens. We will work to try to place them with another organization."
• All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has missed the past two games due to a sore back and Francona indicated that he would likely sit out on Tuesday as well. Cleveland will re-evaluate Cabrera on Wednesday morning and "go from there," said the manager.
• First baseman Chris McGuiness will not be on the Indians' Opening Day roster, but the team would like to keep the Rule 5 Draft pick in its farm system. Cleveland will probably try to work out a deal with Texas in order to avoid being required to return McGuiness to the Rangers.