The Curious Case Of Joel Zumaya
Guitar Hero. Moving boxes. Yeah. Right.
This time it's different. Zumaya had clearly matured and was doing the right things when Monday night his right elbow gave out on a key 3-2 pitch during the Tigers' big series at Minnesota.
It doesn't mean his career is over. Medical technology, particularly regarding elbow injuries, has advanced remarkably. The so-called Tommy John surgery, which replaces ligaments in the elbow with those from other parts of the body, has pitchers coming back, literally, as good as new. The process is a long one, though. If Zumaya faces such a surgery, he will be out for a long period of time. Probably until 2012 - at the earliest. There is no such surgery for shoulder injuries, which are far more precarious.
But Zumaya very well could return to throwing 100 mph fastballs regularly again. Youth is on his side.
I wonder sometimes, because he has been so injury prone, whether Tiger fans have afforded themselves the luxury to enjoy just what a unique talent is possessed by Zumaya. It impossible to know for sure who the hardest-throwing pitcher of all time is, but he is definitely among them.
It's a great story, because when the Tigers selected him out of high school in the draft, he barely touched 90 mph on the radar gun.
Velocity is one of the great mysteries of baseball. It comes and goes on whim. I remember talking to Mark Mulder, the year he was draft eligible at Michigan State. Oakland took him second overall in the draft that year, in large degree because he was 6-foot-6 lefty throwing in the high 90s with good command.
The Tigers had selected Mulder in the 57th round when he was coming out of his Suburban Chicago high school - as a first baseman. In high school, Mulder only threw in the low 80s. He no growth spurt or anything - he just started throwing harder. When I asked him why, he has no explanation.
Also, I wonder how Zumaya's career would be different had he been used as a starter. Not only does he throw extraordinarily hard, but has an excellent feel for pitching, and good off-speed pitches that were going to waste. It's easier to keep a pitcher on a set schedule and protect his health when he is starting.
By the way, I'm not surprised the Tigers called up Casey Fien instead of Daniel Schlereth. The Tigers have three left-handers in their bullpen already, and needed a right-hander. Schlereth is walking nearly a hitter per inning at Toledo, although he hasn't walked a hitter in his last few outings.