PHOENIX -- The first impression A's outfielder Craig Gentry got of Scott Kazmir was that of a pitcher trying to get his career back together.
Gentry and the rest of the A's are banking heavily on Kazmir having succeeded.
It was in 2011 that Gentry, Kazmir and A's third baseman Josh Donaldson were all playing a spell for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.
Gentry and Donaldson were up-and-coming players who both had a bit of big league time. Kazmir, a one-time ace of the Tampa Bay rotation, was, at 27, in danger of being a has-been. After three mostly fruitless seasons in an Angels uniform, Kazmir was just trying to get by.
And it wasn't going all that well.
"He was at that point where he was trying to get it back," Gentry said. He, like Kazmir, is new to Oakland, having come over in a deal with Texas. Kazmir signed as a free agent.
"I think he only pitched two games for us then. He couldn't find it. You could see even then he was a great guy, but he wasn't where he wanted to be."
Gentry's memory was a little off. Kazmir, having lost his fastball and his confidence after being dealt from the Rays to the Angels, pitched just once for Escogido. One-third of an inning it was, four runs allowed and an 108.00 ERA was the result.
"Tell him about my fastball," Kazmir said while Donaldson was being questioned about their time together.
Donaldson just shook his head.
"I'm not going there," the third baseman said.
And with reason. Kazmir's fastball was a nonentity back then. He'd been a first-round pick of the Mets as a flame-dealing lefty out of high school in Houston, and that promise had been no fluke. He came up with the Rays, was a two-time All-Star for them and had a sub-4.00 ERA in each of his first four full seasons. The Angels thought he'd bring them a World Series title when they acquired him in August 2009. He brought mostly disappointment. Injury and disappointment.
There already were elbow issues in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, shoulder and hamstring issues cropped up. After trying to work his way back by pitching in Triple-A, Kazmir pitched one game for the Angels in 2011, then was released. It was shortly after that he had his A's prequel by meeting Donaldson and Gentry in the Dominican.
And it was just last year, after catching on with Cleveland, that Kazmir rediscovered his fastball. On June 21, things seemed to be going nowhere; his ERA was 5.37. But his fastball movement and location locked in, and he got his ERA down to 4.04 by season's end with low walks and high strikeouts. It was enough for the A's to offer him a two-year deal worth $22 million.
His new teammates pinned a mid-August loss on him but still are excited to have him aboard with his return to form. He showed a little of that Sunday in his first spring session in an A's uniform.
"I didn't realize his ball had that kind of carry," manager Bob Melvin said. "It's similar to (Sean) Doolittle with really good backspin. Fastballs that are coming in low really have good carry and stay in the strike zone."
Kazmir is as happy as anybody.
"My personal goals are to do my job and help the guys win," the lefty said. "Coming here, it seems like this group is a lot of fun. It's something that reminds you of Little League. But I've seen the way they play. They play with passion."
So does Kazmir.
"Sometimes when you go through adversity like he has, it makes you appreciate it more," Melvin said. "He's healthy. He wants it. He wants to fight for it. And you love to see that."
"It's easy to see why those guys have had success," Melvin said. "You can tell (Johnson) is a perfectionist. If he doesn't throw it exactly where he wants, he's upset. If you told (Gregerson) he'd get a million dollars if he threw the ball straight, I don't know if he could do it."