DETROIT -- For six innings on Thursday, Scott Kazmir showed that he once again has the potential to be a dominant pitcher in the big leagues. For three pitches, the Indians left-hander looked like the overpowering ace he was for the Rays a few years ago.
After yielding a home run to Josh Donaldson, an angered Kazmir reached back and struck out Lou Montz on three pitches. Those three pitches registered at 95, 96 and 95 mph for the lefty.
"That was pretty good," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said with a grin. "We went back and looked at it. He hadn't hit 95 or 96 since 2009."
Kazmir's return to the Major League stage has been well-documented. He was one of the American League's elite lefties with Tampa Bay before health and mechanical issues led to his release by the Angels in 2011. Kazmir spent last summer pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters in Independent ball, focusing on fine-tuning his delivery.
Cleveland signed him to a Minor League contract over the winter and -- after a solid showing in the spring -- named him the fifth starter.
During Thursday's win over Oakland, Kazmir turned in six innings, holding the A's to one run on five hits an ending the afternoon with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Kazmir has won back-to-back starts for the first time since June 2010, he struck out 10 for the first time since '09 and had double-digit strikeouts with no walks for the first time since May 2008.
"He's gotten better -- considerably better -- every outing he's been out there," Callaway said. "From the first of Spring Training to now, it's been unbelievable. He's probably gaining all this confidence and all of a sudden, something's going to click and he'll be right where he was."
Heading into Friday's games, hitters made contact with pitches in the strike zone only 78 percent of the time against Kazmir, according to fangraphs.com. Only Texas starter Yu Darvish (74 percent) had a better rate. Just behind Kazmir in that category are R.A. Dickey, Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey (each at 79 percent).
Kazmir was averaging 91.3 mph on his fastball, which is a tick under the 91.7 mph average he registered in 2008.
In the sixth inning on Thursday, Kazmir showed he has some gas left in the tank.
"Those were some angry throws right there after that home run," Kazmir said. "I feel like a light bulb went off with how I was throwing it, how I was behind the ball and getting through it. Hopefully I'll keep it going."
Raburn makes his return to Detroit
DETROIT -- Ryan Raburn did not make any wrong turns when he navigated his way through Comerica Park on Friday afternoon. The Indians utility man did admit that he glanced in the direction of the Tigers' clubhouse before heading to the visitors' side.
Detroit fans might have a mixed reaction to Raburn's return, but he was happy to be back in the city he called home for parts of seven seasons.
"It's pretty fun. I've been here so long," Raburn said. "To come back, I'm kind of excited and a little nervous, but I'm anxious to get back out there and see a few of those guys. It's a little different feel being over on the other side."
Raburn, who was not in Cleveland's lineup on Friday, makes his return as the American League's reigning Player of the Week. He filled in admirably as a starter over the past three weeks while the Indians tried to hold down the fort until center fielder Michael Bourn's return from the disabled list. Bourn's absence forced right fielder Drew Stubbs to center, opening the door for playing time in right for Raburn.
Entering Friday, Raburn was hitting .329 (24-for-73) with four home runs, six doubles and 11 RBIs in 22 games for Cleveland. It has been a drastic improvement over last season, when he hit .171 in 66 games for the Tigers, was demoted to Triple-A Toledo and battled injuries in the second half.
"I just wanted to come over here and show guys I could still play," Raburn said. "And just have fun -- enjoy the game. Last year was not very enjoyable. It was tough. Everybody saw how bad it was last year. It just wasn't real fun to come to the ballpark every day."
On Thursday in Washington D.C., Tigers manager Jim Leyland shouldered some of the blame for Raburn's poor showing last season.
"Everybody knows what I think of Ryan Raburn," Leyland told reporters. "I think I probably screwed him up last year making him a second baseman. If I had played him part time in the outfield and moved him around and not just had high expectations, he'd have probably been fine. So I'll take the responsibility for that. He's a talented guy. It was probably my fault."
Raburn smiled when he heard of Leyland's comments.
"There's different theories and different scenarios," Raburn said. "I appreciate him thinking it was his fault. It was nobody's fault. I think it's just the nature of the game. You go through spurts where it seems like nothing goes right for you and you go through spurts where there's nothing you can do wrong.
"It was just one of those years where it was going to go wrong. It did last year. But nobody is to blame. I was the one out there playing and I just didn't get it done."
Kipnis improving at the plate with focus on mechanics
DETROIT -- Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis believes there is an easy way to tell whether he is feeling good or slumping at the plate.
"When I'm going bad, you'll see me roll over balls," Kipnis said. "When I'm going good, you'll see me kind of stay through them and go to left field."
Kipnis has been driving the ball to the opposite field more often of late.
"It's a good sign," he said.
When Kipnis was struggling offensively in April, Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo dug up video of the second baseman's swing mechanics during strong stretches last season. Van Burkleo saw that Kipnis was more aggressive with his hands through the strike zone, and he went to work on getting things back to where they were a year ago.
"He wasn't really getting a really good snap with his bottom hand," Van Burkleo explained. "I think a lot of it is just trying to hit it. He wasn't as aggressive-minded. In Kansas City [last month], I just talked to him about getting aggressive and working on feeling that bottom hand working better."
Kipnis hit just .125 through his first eight games this season, but had hit .264 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in his past 17 games, entering Friday. Over his last seven games, the second baseman had posted a .300 average to go along with three homers and 10 RBIs.
In the first inning of Thursday's 9-2 win over the A's, Kipnis sliced a pitch from Bartolo Colon deep to left-center field for a two-run home run at Progressive Field.
"He's swinging the bat well," Van Burkleo said. "He's staying on the ball good. He's got some length through the finish and he's really accelerating the barrel nicely. There's a lot of life in the bat right now."
Quote to note
"I thought he officially had the cutest son in the league. And Victor, that was a big trade for us. We were in the middle of a pennant race and Victor became the leader in about two hours. That's hard to do. We had a veteran team, and guys started following Victor's cue really quickly. That's a hard thing to pull off unless you're legit."
--Terry Francona, on Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez, who played for the Indians manager during their days with the Red Sox. Boston acquired Martinez from Cleveland in 2009.
• When the season started, Francona had switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup's second spot, sandwiched between lefties Bourn and Kipnis. In 16 of the past 19 games, Francona has altered his thinking, moving Kipnis into the No. 2 slot and Cabrera into the third hole.
"I think Cabby all along was more comfortable hitting third," Francona said of Cabrera. "But I was a little stubborn, because I didn't want the lefties hitting back-to-back. ... Early in Spring Training, [Cabrera] said, 'I'll hit wherever you put me,' but I think that's the place he's most comfortable."
• The Indians rotation has been on a roll over the past 11 games, going 9-1 with a 2.55 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings, entering Friday. In that span of games, Cleveland's starting staff has ranked first in the American League in wins and ERA, second in innings pitched and third in strikeouts.
"I think they're just pounding the zone," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "If you pound the zone and get ahead, you're going to have success. The stuff has always been there for all of them. They just have to go out there and do it -- pound the zone."
• There a video of Detroit's Prince Fielder -- son of former Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder -- taking batting practice on the big league field before a Tigers game back in 1996. Francona, who was a third-base coach for Detroit that year, was the person throwing pitches to the youngster.
"I remember he didn't pick up the balls," Francona said with a laugh. "I said, 'Hey, man. I don't care how far you hit them. You've got to pick up the balls.' We had a good laugh about that last spring. ... I remember just thinking that no 12-year-old should be able to hit a ball that far."
• Francona said he will monitor the workload of Bourn over the next week. Bourn was in the lineup as Cleveland's leadoff man and center fielder against Detroit on Friday after missing more than three weeks with a right index finger injury.