Ailing wrist, forearm shelve Zumaya
Inflammation leaves no immediate timetable for rookie's return
DETROIT -- The news on Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya was about as good as manager Jim Leyland said he could expect. But right now, they have no expectation on when the triple-digit fastball pitcher will be able to pitch again.
Results of an MRI exam and an ultrasound conducted on Thursday morning confirmed inflammation in his right wrist and forearm, which head athletic trainer Kevin Rand called "very similar" to the injury he suffered in September. Zumaya missed a week with the injury last month, but that timetable has no bearing on how much time he'll miss now.
Part of the difference between the last bout and this one is the treatment. Zumaya received a cortisone shot for it last month, and though he couldn't do anything for a couple days after the injection, the inflammation stayed away until now. Because Zumaya can't have two injections in such a short stretch of time, the medical staff will have to resort to other means to reduce the swelling.
"We're going to treat him with ice and put him on some medication," Rand said. "We're going to work to get the inflammation out and re-evaluate his pitching status daily."
How many days is anyone's guess, though Zumaya seems likely to miss at least Game 3 on Friday afternoon. Even after the cortisone shot last month, Zumaya couldn't throw pain-free when he tried to a few days later.
"I'm not sure he'll be ready to pitch [Friday]," Leyland said, "but we got a good report. We got the best news you could get."
Zumaya was not available for comment.
The reoccurrence, Rand said, happened when Zumaya was throwing long toss during batting practice on Wednesday afternoon. He told Rand that it felt very much like the pinching feeling he had last month.
The thought then was that Zumaya's grip on his fastball had something to do with it, and it's still the most popular reason now. If Zumaya can't grip the ball like he wants, he loses both velocity and location, taking him out of his power game.
"Let's face it: He grips it tight and he throws it at 103 miles per hour," Rand said. "There aren't too many guys that do that. Obviously, that's a factor, because when this does occur, he isn't able to grip the baseball."
That said, the training staff isn't completely sure what's causing it to recur so soon. It's something that they want to figure out, but they have to get Zumaya better first.
"We've got to find out really why it is happening and see if there's something we can do to help him," Rand said. "Obviously, once you get it quieted down, then it becomes a situation where you can strengthen the arm in the offseason."
The Tigers really can't do much until the inflammation quiets down. Until that happens, they must continue through the playoffs without the most dominant presence in their bullpen. The 21-year-old Zumaya, converted from a Minor League starter to relief at the end of Spring Training, took the big leagues by storm in his rookie year with his ability to throw fastballs at 99 mph and up while still spotting them. His 97 strikeouts over 83 1/3 regular-season innings ranked third among American League relievers, and his 30 holds ranked second only to the Angels' Scot Shields in the AL to go with a 6-3 record and 1.94 ERA.
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In the playoffs, he has pitched in three of Detroit's five victories, including 1 2/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts in Game 2 to the AL Division Series to help preserve a comeback win that got the Tigers rolling. He threw an inning of relief on Tuesday and felt fine, hitting 102 mph on the stadium radar gun.
Without Zumaya, the bullpen becomes more a committee role in filling the innings leading up to Todd Jones in the ninth. Chief among the other relievers is Fernando Rodney, who struck out the side in the eighth inning on Wednesday to preserve what ended up an 8-5 win.
"Definitely when you look at someone like Zumaya, who comes in and throws 100 miles per hour, he's a weapon," Jamie Walker said. "He's one of our weapons, that's for sure. He'll be missed, but it's the postseason. When the wolf falls out of the wolf pack, the wolf pack keeps going. They don't stop. It's going to put more on us. We know that."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.