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04/10/09 1:51 PM ET

Zumaya to pitch in Minors on Saturday

Reliever continuing to recover from sore right shoulder

DETROIT -- The Tigers returned home Friday with issues to sort out in the bullpen, but one question is getting closer to an answer. Joel Zumaya, who could fill a big hole in the late innings if and when he returns, is set to begin a Minor League rehab stint this weekend.

Zumaya, who would be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Saturday after going on it last week with a sore right shoulder, will instead begin his progression through the Minors with an inning or so with Class A Lakeland on Saturday. This won't be the point where he throws on consecutive days, but it's where he'll progress until they're ready to test him out on back-to-back days at another level, either Triple-A Toledo or Double-A Erie.

"All that stuff depends on how he comes out of it," manager Jim Leyland said Friday morning.

Zumaya's arm is already stretched out as far as the number of pitches in an individual outing. He threw more than 40 in his last outing Wednesday in extended Spring Training, and although Leyland said Zumaya's velocity was down a little from past performances, the right-hander's arm came out feeling fine.

"To me, there are no setbacks with Zumaya as long as he's healthy," Leyland said.

So far, that's the hope, though they've been stymied before. Zumaya, who missed the final couple months of last season with a stress fracture in his right shoulder, was seemingly on track to be ready for the start of the season until his shoulder became sore after a March 2 appearance. Tests showed no structural damage, and he was cleared to begin throwing again, but a cramp in his trapezial muscle between his neck and right shoulder cost him another couple weeks. His progress since then has been steady, but cautious, so as not to risk another setback.

The importance of getting him back to the Tigers bullpen is no secret. Without him, the Tigers went into the season needing effective setup work from Brandon Lyon, whose Spring Training struggles carried over into the regular season when he gave up a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning and game-winning sac fly in the ninth on Tuesday.

"He'll be a welcome addition when he comes back," Leyland said, "because that's a little gap that we really need [to fill] right now."

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