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.

Topics: Casey Fien, Detroit Tigers, Joel Zumaya, Minnesota Twins

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  • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

    Your first paragraph pretty much sums it up. I was struck by the fact that this is the second time in a month that I have had that punched in the gut feeling following a Tigers win.

    It is said that some guys can run out of their shoes. Joel may have just pitched out of his arm.

  • http://www.motorcitybengals.com Matt Snyder

    I wonder if they’ll look at calling Schlereth up seeing as the Twins love the lefty hitters. Long-term though it’d be nice to have a back end of the bullpen righty. Perry isn’t quite ready to come off the DL yet, and I think Weinhardt is still rehabbing in Connecticut. Fien and a Sborz redux are both likely options.

    • http://motorcitybengals.com John Parent

      I wouldn’t be upset with Schlereth, but only if Ni was optioned out. Ni hasn’t been good and Schlereth gives them a different look, but there is no need for four LH relievers. Send out Ni, call up Sborz and Schlereth then re-visit the situation when Perry comes back.

      This is where we really miss Zach Miner, and I never thought I’d say that.

    • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

      Casey Fien got the call and will be in Minneapolis tonight.

  • Bryan

    I know Perry isn’t ready yet, but wow how important is he going to be down the stretch now. I also hope Coke puts this blaming himself behind him and doesnt let it effect his game.

    • http://motorcitybengals.com John Parent

      That’s the real scary part. Perry did well in the set-up role early this year, but how will he respond to a pennant race when he’s pitching with a lead to protect instead of in games when the Tigers are trailing?

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers target a veteran set-up man for the rest of the year, perhaps a Chad Qualls or someone of his ilk.

  • Bob

    Zumaya simply cannot stay healthy. He’s unequivocally proven that over 4 1/2 seasons. I don’t know if he’s injury prone or his pitching movement is too awkward to maintain. In any case, he’s spent more time on the DL than on the roster. Zoom may need to re-invent himself like Frank Tanana did. He went from a fire-baller to a pitching artiste’ and had many successful seasons after doing so. Zoom cannot continue what he’s doing or the Tigers will kiss him good-bye.