Joel Zumaya
A warm Minneapolis evening in June, 2010  provided one of the toughest moments I have seen on a baseball field in a long time.  Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya unleashed a fastball to Delmon Young in the eighth inning of a game at Target Field and immediately clutched his right elbow, falling to the grass in agony.  Zumaya had suffered a fractured elbow, forcing him to miss the remainder of the 2010 season.
It was yet another frustrating moment in what appeared at one time to be a special career in the making. 

Zumaya's major league career has been one harrowing roller coaster ride.  He enjoyed rock star status in 2006 when as a 21 year-old rookie he took the American League by storm, lighting up radar guns at 103 MPH.  An intimidating demeanor coupled with  lightening-filled arm made Zumaya one of the most feared relievers in the game at a young age.  The Tigers marched to the World Series in 2006, and a good portion of the credit belonged to Zumaya who over matched hitters on a nightly basis.  Zumaya averaged 10 1/2 strikeouts per nine innings his rookie season. 

The sky appeared to be the limit.  Yet, the one thing that struck me about Zumaya's style was that he possessed one of the most maximum-effort deliveries this side of Troy Percival.  You only wondered if he would be able to stay healthy.  That question was answered over the next five years.  Multiple surgeries (two on his elbow, two on his shoulder and one for a ruptured finger tendon) left his fans wondering if he would ever return to his 2006 form.  So far he has not.

Zumaya is a person you root for.   Enduring the many surgery rehabs and mental strain of wondering if you will ever pitch again takes its toll on the psyche. Yet, he has bounced back every time.  The hope was that he would regain his form in a Tigers uniform, reliving the glory days of 2006.  That will not be the case.  The Twins signed Zumaya to a one year deal and his return to the major leagues will have to come on the very field where he fell to the turf with a devastating injury in 2010.

As Zumaya moves on, the memories remain.  His big league debut in Kansas City when he struck out three in two innings on opening day.  Watching him sneak a peak at the stadium radar gun after throwing a fastball, anticipating triple digits.  Having an opportunity to engage an intimidating,  yet approachable,  personality in the clubhouse on a daily basis.

 The Tigers could not offer Zumaya a guaranteed contract, especially after an endless string of injuries that left the club frustrated at every turn.  Sometimes a fresh start is a good thing.  In this case it is probably best that both sides move on.



01/15/2012 15:53

I'm excited for Joel that he found a home for next season, but I so wish things could have worked out differently. I was so excited to see him looking so good at the beginning of training last season. My heart just goes out to him for everything he's been through. Good luck, Joel, and I'm totally rooting for you.

Joe Halstead
01/15/2012 16:03

I'mt not as happy as you seem to be. Dave Dombrowski merely had to offer him a spot on the 40 man roster and chuck a measly million dollars at him.

I really, REALLY hope that when we have a no-out, bases-loaded rally going, and Joel Zumaya comes in and strikes out the side, you and Rod will, ON THE AIR, acknowledge what really happened, which is that we could have had him back on our team, and our GM failed.

A 40-man roster is pretty big. We couldn't move one of our dime-a-dozen pitchers to give this phenom one more chance? And now he's our division rival?

I'd feel much better if he were going to the NL, but now we could see him nearly 20 times in 2012. We probably won't, but every time we have a man on third in a tight game in late innings against the Twins, we're likely to see Zumaya.

I wish Dave D. thought about that a little harder. It would have been easy to stick him in a spot intended for a pitcher we're not going to see very often anyway.

01/16/2012 08:35

I get what Joe is saying, and I really don't want to see him blowing our guys away in the late innings of crucial games, but when I take emotions out of it I do see Mario's point about his durability. This is a guy who hasn't been healthy for a full season in nearly five years. That's troubling for a guy his age, and a tough call to make when you're gunning for a World Series.


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