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02/27/08 5:30 PM ET

Zumaya pleased by progress

Tigers reliever ahead of schedule after October surgery

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joel Zumaya came to camp on Tuesday expecting another day in the weight room. He ended up throwing a baseball for the first time in almost five months.

The Tigers' athletic training staff has been keeping Zumaya in a little bit of suspense on his rehabilitation program following his surgery to rebuild the AC joint in his right shoulder last October, but they had a surprise for him when they cleared him to play catch. It was ahead of when he expected -- he thought he wasn't going to throw until early or mid-March -- and it ended up better than he thought it would be.

"The first one was at [athletic trainer] Doug Teter's ankles, but the rest of them were at his chest," Zumaya said Wednesday morning. "I was happy about that. It was good.

"To do what I did yesterday was a real positive thing for me," Zumaya said. "I was not expecting to even get the ball to Teter."

Zumaya said he made 45 throws from about 60 feet away. He felt no pain while he was throwing, and the soreness he felt the next day was to be expected after going so long without throwing and with his arm still far from full strength.

It was his first time throwing since fall, yet the fastballer instinct still was in him.

"My 60 feet ain't no average 60 feet," he said. "I was still trying to throw hard. [Pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez] had to take the ball away."

He'll be playing catch every other day for the foreseeable future, staying in Lakeland after the big league team heads out at the end of the March. There's still no firm timetable other than the initial one given by doctors in California who performed the procedure, that he should be able to return as soon as July or August. At this point, the team seems to be going as much on how Zumaya's arm feels as on any calendar.

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He's still a long way and a lot of strengthening work away from a return, but he said he believes his arm will be stronger than it has been the last couple years thanks to the lifting he's putting in.

"Right now, it's still very weak," he admitted. "Yesterday, it felt good. It's still tight. Once I started getting out to 60 feet, it felt a little better. It's just mainly stiffness. I have to regain flexibility in my arm. The range of motion is all there."

For Zumaya, though, Tuesday was a positive next step.

"Not having to move your arm for about three months, having it at your side, you feel like you won't be able to use your arm anymore," he said. "To get [to throwing] in a matter of 3 1/2, four weeks of therapy and a couple weeks here, it's a really good feeling."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.