CLEVELAND -- It might sound like science fiction, but a cryogenic chamber might be behind Scott Kazmir's recent resurgence on the mound for the Indians.
During the Tribe's recent road trip to Atlanta, Kazmir underwent a pair of cryogenic therapy sessions with the idea of helping some of the late-season fatigue he had experienced. On Friday night against the Mets, Kazmir went out and struck out 12 hitters in six shutout innings en route to an 8-1 win for Cleveland.
Does Kazmir credit the cryogenics?
"Let's not go that far," Kazmir said with a laugh. "I only used it twice."
Kazmir noted that he has been implementing a variety of techniques to fighting fatigue. The lefty quickly rattled off methods such as stretching, resistance exercises with bands, icing, compression and hot-and-cold therapy as things he has done in recent weeks.
"We did do a lot of things to try to recover," Kazmir said. "So you can't just put it on one thing."
Unless, perhaps, one of those things is especially unique. In cryogenic chamber therapy, the patient steps into a tube wearing boots, gloves and a bathing suit for a few minutes. The temperature can drop to around 166 degrees below zero and the body is cooled with liquid nitrogen, and cold sensors increase blood flow to help sore muscles and tissues.
Indians manager Terry Francona also gave it a try while in Atlanta.
"Kaz threw harder and I got a headache," Francona said. "I'll take that trade-off anytime. I can take aspirin."
On the season, Kazmir has gone 8-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 136 innings after logging no Major League innings last year. Over his past three starts, Kazmir has posted a 2.65 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 17 innings, following a two-start stretch in which the lefty went 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA in just eight combined innings.
Due to last season's low workload, Kazmir said he has battled fatigue more in the second half than in previous years of his career.
"It does feel different compared to all the other seasons late in the year," Kazmir said. "Normally, I'd feel a lot stronger later in the season. Now, it seems like it's going in waves a little bit, where you really have to make that extra effort to do everything you can recovery-wise consistently every single day. But, it's paying off."
Gomes getting bulk of playing time at catcher
CLEVELAND -- When the Indians acquired Yan Gomes in an offseason trade with the Blue Jays, Cleveland made it clear that it considered him a candidate to be an everyday catcher at some point in the future. The Tribe did not know he would seize that job by September.
Over the past month, Gomes has garnered the bulk of the playing time behind the plate for the Indians, who have given catcher Carlos Santana time as a designated hitter or part-time first baseman to keep his bat in the lineup. The way manager Terry Francona views the situation, Cleveland does not really have a true backup catcher at the moment.
"Right now, fortunately, we seem to have two everyday catchers," Francona said. "That's pretty fortunate. We just try to use it to our advantage."
Santana entered Saturday hitting .261 with 17 home runs, 32 doubles, 62 RBIs and 79 walks. The switch-hitting cleanup man had 81 games at catcher, 35 at DH and 21 at first base. Since Aug. 1, however, Santana had logged 116 2/3 innings behind the plate compared to 184 innings for Gomes.
Heading into Saturday's game against the Mets, the 26-year-old Gomes was batting .300 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, 33 RBIs and an .852 OPS through 68 games. Behind the plate, Gomes has guided the pitching staff to a 3.69 ERA while throwing out 50 percent (15-of-30) of would-be basestealers.
"He's done terrific," Francona said of Gomes. "He's understanding that, as a catcher, you have to take ownership of the staff. That's first and foremost."
Francona was asked if the recent usage of Gomes and Santana -- with Gomes spending the majority of the time at catcher -- was an indication of how the Indians might view their catching alignment in the future.
"You're probably getting ahead of yourself," Francona said. "I think it just kind of makes common sense. [Gomes] has done so well that, when we're playing him, it makes sense to catch him. He's a good catcher. Santana has the ability to DH, play first. Gomes probably does, too, but since he hasn't caught as much, it just seems to make sense."
Young Indians fan Niko presented with home run balls
CLEVELAND -- It sure seemed as though fate was involved when it comes to the story of 8-year-old Indians fan Niko Lanzarotta.
Lanzarotta -- diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 8 months old -- asked Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis if they could each hit a home run for him on Aug. 24. Both came through on the promised blasts, and the fans who caught the home run balls presented Lanzarotta and his family with the baseballs prior to Saturday's game against the Mets at Progressive Field.
"It's been unbelievable," said Mike Lanzarotta, Niko's father. "When we came down that day, his favorite player is Carlos Santana, we just wanted to be able to get a picture with him and an autograph. Everything over and above that has been just icing on the cake."
During Saturday's visit, which included Asdrubal Cabrera providing Niko with a pair of batting gloves and Michael Bourn stopping by to talk and sign an autograph, even more layers to this story were revealed.
Megan Gillombardo, who works with special-needs children at local Mayfield High School, dove to retrieve the first-inning home run delivered by Santana on Aug. 24. Kipnis' homer landed in the bullpen down the right-field line, but someone tossed the ball to Mike Larkin, who said he is in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
As he stood back from the crowd on the field, watching the Lanzarotta family interact with the Indians' players, Larkin could not help but get emotional about being able to give Niko the baseball.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me," said Larkin, who is from New Philadelphia, Ohio. "The Indians got me through [my past health issues]. That's another reason it was a no-brainer. I know what the Indians mean to him."
Larkin and Gillombardo both reached out to the Indians on their own to find out how they could present the baseballs to Niko, whose mom, Kasia, is expecting twins later this year. Santana, who again spent time chatting with his No. 1 fan on Saturday, pushed for the team to bring the Lanzarotta family back to Progressive Field.
"It's pretty awesome. I actually got a little teary-eyed," Gillombardo said. "It was awesome to see [Niko] that excited and happy."
Quote to note
"I get nervous during games. I think it's a good nervous. I want our guys to do well so bad. So I get here early and I prepare so when I make a decision, there's a reason. It doesn't always work, but I feel like I owe that to the players. Once I'm prepared for the game, it helps me relax."
• Indians right-hander Justin Masterson remains in a shut-down period after suffering a strained left oblique in his start against the Orioles on Monday. Masterson will be re-assessed early next week before potentially being cleared to resume playing catch.
• Indians left fielder Michael Brantley left the team on Friday to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. As of Saturday morning, the baby had not arrived, and Francona did not have a clear return date established for the outfielder.
• Outfielder Tim Fedroff and shortstop Juan Diaz both cleared waivers on Saturday and were sent outright to Triple-A Columbus. Fedroff and Diaz were each designated for assignment on Sunday in order for the Tribe to selected the contracts of catcher Kelly Shoppach and infielder Jose Ramirez.
• With his performance against the Mets on Friday night, Kazmir became the first pitcher in the Majors to record at least 12 strikeouts with no walks in a scoreless outing of no more than six innings since Texas lefty Matt Perisho accomplished the feat on Oct. 3, 1999.