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Closer Talk: Can Zumaya really be ‘the man’ in 2010?


Joel Zumaya is a flamethrowing, bloodshot eyed madman. His right arm has the ability to  deliver pitches nearly as fast as Adrian Peterson’s hot rod BMV.   Nobody is questioning his talent. He has shown his dominance in the past.

But is he ready to take the reigns in the ninth inning?

Depending on who you ask, he has the stuff to do it. He has the big game mentality that you look for in a pitcher. It’s obvious on the mound that the fire tattooed on his left arm isn’t the only flame. His passion warrants notice. When he is in the game he wants to win.

So if he has the stuff and he has the passion to win, then why isn’t he the favorite to be named and retained as the 2010 closer?

Let’s just say it’s more difficult than that. The 25 year old has never shown the dedication off the field to become one of the bullpen elites in Major League Baseball. He might be the most experienced arm in the bullpen that would be considered for the closing job, but he also has been tabbed as one of the bullpen arms with the most questions coming into the season. Is his shoulder healthy enough to take on a whole season’s workload? Can he handle pressure situations without cracking? Can he decide to go with the curve instead of immaturely trying to overpower hitters with his heavy heat at the top of the strike zone?

We all remember Micah Hoffpauir’s shot that shouldn’t of been heard around Comerica. During a time when the Tigers really needed him last season, he crumbled. Who knows how much that had to do with injury. In his short time he gave up more hits than innings pitched. Unlike years past, every single batter seemed like a struggle. The flamethrowin’ kid out of Chula Vista looked like damaged goods. In four out of his last ten outings in 2009 he blew a save.  His confidence lacked most of the season. Some would argue he even looked out of shape and lacked commitment.

Any Tigers fan could notice the pain in his shoulder. The grimace  even put fans in pain as he moved his throwing arm in a circular motion and shrugged his shoulders to put just enough on his fastball.

As Jason Beck has reported on, the Tigers might not have any option. Fernando Rodney is going to receive a multi-year deal from another team,  and unlike last year, The Tigers might not be able to find a solid reliever that falls through the cracks of free agency. This market is nearly bare. It is pretty safe to say that a reliever at the caliber of Brandon Lyon is not going to last just with just a few weeks into spring training. The Tigers most likely will have to roll the dice with what they got.

Quite frankly I am okay with that, including inserting Joel Zumaya in the ninth innings if he is healthy.

2010 is not going to be about winning a championship. Unfortunately, it might not even be about competing in the A.L. Central. If the Tigers are going to begin developing talent at second base, in the outfield, and in the starting rotation, then why not do the same thing in the bullpen? Ryan Perry is still a bit raw. Daniel Schlereth has the makings to be a weapon in the late innings. So why not give these guys their chances in the late innings. The only way to find out if they have what it takes is to throw them in the fire. With money off the books to start the 2011 off-season, it would only make sense to see what that talent you acquired can do in the positions they are projected to be in the future.

The same goes for the young Zumaya.

No, he has not earned the job. He hasn’t even stumbled upon the opportunity. But for the Tigers and Joel Zumaya himself, it was known this moment was going to happen. Maybe he wasn’t groomed for the closer’s role they way general managers dream of it happening. At 25, he might not even be mature enough to take on the role. He has shown in the past that he struggles with location.

But remember. This is the town of the Roller Coaster closer.

Like Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney before him, his resume might not fit the job. He might not be the best interview. But in a down economy, he is affordable. Last year’s performance isn’t going to cost as much when arbitration is filed in January as it might have if Zumaya had a healthy season. Making him the closer keeps him a bit healthier, because in all likelihood, he would not face as many hitters. He would not be put in many tough situations with men on base.

He would start with a clean slate. Which could be just the thing to propel the once exciting, dominating and downright filthy reliever that helped lead the Tigers to the World Series.