Tigers Win a Game, Lose Joel Zumaya

Detroit 7, Minnesota 5 (box)

Jason Beck said it was the quietest he’s heard the Tigers clubhouse since game 163. Less than a month after Mario Impemba said he had never been so disappointed after a Tigers win (those remarks followed the final out of Armando Galarraga‘s “perfect” game), the mood in the Tigers clubhouse was especially sour despite the fact that the Tigers had just beaten the Twins and claimed sole possession of first place.

But in winning the game, the Tigers lost one of their top relievers. A mere second after unleashing a 99 mph fastball, right hander Joel Zumaya was writhing in pain. He shook his arm, he took a few steps behind the mound, and he slumped to the ground in agony.

We’ve danced this dance with Zumaya before. After taking baseball by storm as a rookie in 2006, Zumaya’s legend was halted by a series of freak injuries. He blew out a tendon in his finger while warming up in the bullpen, he had a box fall on and crush his valuable right shoulder, he pitched through a fracture in that same shoulder before succumbing to a second surgery. Each time, Zumaya was able to eventually return, each time he did so with his 100 mph heater intact. (more after the jump)

Zumaya will undergo an MRI on his elbow this morning. Catcher Gerald Laird said he heard a “pop” when Zumaya released the pitch , reliever Phil Coke said this was the third time he’s seen a pitcher’s elbow “explode”. It doesn’t appear that this is the same injury that cost the careers of Tom Browning, Tony Saunders, or Dave Draveky, but Zumaya’s agony on the field was certainly reminiscent of those guys.

For now, we’ll just have to assume that Zumaya won’t pitch again this year, that much seems fairly obvious. The bigger question is whether or not he will ever pitch again. At this point, best case scenario might be a trip to Dr. James Andrews and a date with Tommy John surgery. Worst case is that we have seen Zumaya’s last pitch.

The Tigers will make a roster move today, no question about that. Zumaya will be disabled and another arm will be recalled. There are a few candidates, notably Jay Sborz or Robbie Weinhardt. Casey Fien is another possibility. None of those guys bring the same experience or swagger that Zumaya brought to the Tigers. This is a devastating blow to the Tigers chances this year, and beyond.

UPDATE: As Matt noted in the comments below, RHP Casey Fien was recalled this morning and will be in uniform tonight in Minnesota.

Lost in all this, there was a game, and the Tigers did come out on top. Miguel Cabrera drove home two with a pair of doubles. Brennan Boesch moved into a tie with Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, leading all rookies now with 45 RBI, and Laird contributed his second home run of the year.

The Tigers jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against Francisco Liriano when each of the first six batters of the game reached base. They held on to win when Jose Valverde threw 1.2 perfect innings for his 18th save of the year.

Tags: Casey Fien Detroit Tigers Joel Zumaya Minnesota Twins

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