Zumaya Wowing ’em Early


Relax folks, we have a long way to go. Today marked just the first time this spring that pitchers began throwing to live batters. The regular season doesn’t start for another five weeks or so. Spring Training games don’t even start until next week. Nevertheless, it seems all of Lakeland is buzzing about former phenom Joel Zumaya and his apparent return to form.

We know the back story, Zumaya worked over 83 innings as a rookie in 2006 and his 100+ mph fastball set the American League on its ear. Over the past three seasons, Zumaya has managed just 88 innings combined. His shoulder has been through two surgeries, his arm slot dropped to compensate for the pain, and his pitches flattened out. Zumaya became hittable.

As I said above, it’s early. And as Jason Beck pointed out, Zumaya began throwing bullpens about a month ago, so he should be ahead of everyone else at this point. But the raves he is drawing have to mean something, right?

When the waterlogged backfields forced the Tigers to workout on the stadium field at Joker Marchant today, Zumaya drew quite a crowd, including Jose Valverde and Justin Verlander. Players and coaches alike have been wowed with what Zoom has been throwing.

“The ball is flying out of his hand,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I watched him throw and asked one of my coaches, ‘How does a human being hit that?’

“I’m holding my breath it holds up because that stuff is nasty. It’s nasty. There is no shortage of velocity. That I can promise you.”

When asked if he had caught Zumaya yet, catcher Alex Avila simply picked up his glove and pointed to the extra pad that had been placed inside, obviously he had.

Beck mentioned in a tweet regarding Zumaya’s session today: “Even if pitchers weren’t ahead of hitters at this point in camp, (minor league INF) Gustavo Nunez vs. Joel Zumaya = Not Fair”

To be sure, Zumaya hasn’t shown durability over the past few years. Counting on him to be healthy all season would be a fool’s errand at this point. The Tigers were said to be quite pleased with reports they had gotten about Zumaya during the winter, but not so much that they didn’t go sign a closer (Valverde) for two years. Zumaya seems to understand that this might be his last shot at proving he belongs with the Tigers, and he is working his tail off to show it. From Zumaya via Tom Gage:

"“But if I don’t work, I’m going to be hurt, If I don’t keep up my work ethic, I’m going to be on the shelf.If I keep it up, I’ll be healthy all year. If I don’t keep it up, it will be my fault. I’ll end up on the disabled list."

"I’m only 25, and have been through some stuff. But to finally say that I’m 100 percent feels real good.”"

Much like with Carlos Guillen, the Tigers are going to do their best to keep him healthy, and at the same time try to protect themselves in case of another injury. Ryan Perry will be getting himself prepped for a setup role should Zumaya falter, but the Tigers are a better team if Zoom can man the eighth inning. Simply put, a healthy Joel Zumaya could be the difference between a bullpen that figures to be pretty good, and maybe the best bullpen in the league.

And that could be the difference between a third place finish in the Central, or maybe, just maybe, fighting for the playoffs.