Changeup makes for different Zumaya
Opponents can't key off fastball with other options
DETROIT -- Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya seemingly has the old life back on his fastball. But he has a changeup in store for opponents who think they can simply gear up for his heat.
When Zumaya beamed in Spring Training about the changeup he worked on for much of camp -- and the mix of pitches he was using against hitters -- he was serious. So was the look on Grady Sizemore's face after he checked his swing and watched Zumaya's offspeed pitch hit the outside corner for a called third strike to end the eighth inning Saturday afternoon.
It isn't a pitch Zumaya's going to use often, but he feels confident he can use it in the right opportunity.
"That's a good moment to throw it, when the guy's sitting dead-red [on a fastball]," Zumaya said. "I can also throw the breaking ball, but he hasn't seen the changeup, so it's a good place to throw it.
"I feel pretty comfortable to throw it, or I would've not thrown it in that situation. I could've shook it off and went fastball or breaking ball. That's what I've been throwing. I've been throwing that. I've been working on my breaking ball. And like I said, that's a key moment to use it."
When Zumaya came back, it was initially uncertain how often he'd go to the change. Though he mixed his pitches well during his Minor League rehab stint, it was almost completely a mix of fastballs and breaking balls. The few weeks Zumaya lost in March -- first to shoulder soreness, then a muscle cramp between his shoulder and neck -- were also valuable time lost to work on that third pitch.
Before Saturday's game, manager Jim Leyland said the changeup was a good show pitch, but not a priority as long as Zumaya had his curveball working. But Leyland acknowledged the value of throwing it on occasion -- even as a work in progress -- as long as Zumaya can throw it for a strike.
"When you think about it, there's not a hitter in baseball who's going to go up and look for his changeup," Leyland said.
Teammate Curtis Granderson was amazed to see Indians hitters pulling Zumaya's fastball. Given that, Granderson thinks the changeup can be a huge pitch, especially to left-handed batters.
"I remember the fact that he's got a great slider/curve," Granderson said. "That's his offset to the fastball. But that change had to be right down the middle of the plate at a 10-mph difference. It's hard to be able to cover both. You add the [Fernando] Rodney element to it with that change of speed.
"If [Zumaya] can do that, that's three great pitches he can control for strikes," Granderson said. "He could be very dangerous. You've got to [prepare] for one."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.