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08/21/07 11:15 PM ET
Zumaya comes back firing
Tigers' hard-throwing reliever returns from finger injury
By Tim Kirby / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Rarely are relievers greeted with such fanfare after a five-pitch outing. But these weren't ordinary circumstances or a normal pitcher. Joel Zumaya made his much-anticipated return for the Tigers in the seventh inning on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, and he didn't disappoint in a 2-1 win over the Indians. "I can't compare this to anything," said Zumaya, who pitched in his first game since May 1. "These fans knew exactly what was coming. They were up ... when I was warming up. So it was fun. I just can't wait to go back out there tomorrow and get these guys again." Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he didn't plan on using Zumaya in the eighth inning, but that didn't mean he couldn't throw him right back into the fray in a pressure-packed situation, even after he missed 96 games with a torn flexor tendon in his right middle finger. "I just wanted him to get one out and get his feet wet a little bit," Leyland said. "He felt good about it. He came in and came out -- it really couldn't have worked out any better, to be honest with you." Zumaya came in to preserve a one-run lead after Jair Jurrjens, who was making just his second career start, was pulled after throwing 78 pitches and allowing one hit over 6 2/3 innings. And this wasn't against a non-contending team. This was the Indians -- the same team the Tigers have been battling for first place in the American League Central all season. Even Jurrjens, who allowed a solo homer to Jhonny Peralta for the only Indians hit of the game, knew Zumaya was the best choice. "This game was really important for us, and Zumaya's back," Jurrjens said. "We need to give it to the guy we trust, and we did that and we won." So after Jurrjens walked Travis Hafner, Leyland made the signal for Zumaya to face Ryan Garko. The crowd may have been looking for a 102-mph fastball or, at the very least, a strikeout from the fireballer. They got neither, though Zumaya proved every bit as effective as the day he left. "I was focused on one thing -- me and [catcher] Pudge [Rodriguez]," Zumaya said. "I wanted to get that out. I really wanted to strike him out, but I got him out." His fastball topped out at 99 mph on the Comerica Park radar gun, and Zumaya got Garko to ground out to end the inning after five straight fastballs. "I ain't throwing no breaking ball on my first outing back, come on, man," Zumaya said. "I'm gonna go right after these guys, so I'm happy that things turned out the way they did." It was just one-third of an inning, but Zumaya's return was part of a near-perfect night for Detroit pitchers. Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones each threw a hitless inning to help the Tigers move to within a half-game of Cleveland in the AL Central. "I feel good. I'm ready for tomorrow," Zumaya said. "Put me right back out there. I'm ready to go after these guys. I did what I wanted to. I came out and was able to help this team win. I only faced one batter, but I can't be any more excited."
Tim Kirby is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.