New Twins reliever Joel Zumaya

Julian H. Gonzalez, MCT

For Zumaya, it's health before heat

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • January 19, 2012 - 10:46 PM

Joel Zumaya expects to ring up triple-digit readings on the radar gun this season, but it's more important to the righthander to prove he's healthy -- and is more than someone who blows fastballs by hitters.

"I've toned it down a little bit where I know I've grown up as a pitcher, being injured and having to go through these injuries and learn to pitch in the big leagues," Zumaya said. "You just can't throw 100 [miles per hour] by people now. For me, 100 is overrated. There are quite a few athletes who are throwing 100 and hitters are timing it now."

Quite a statement from someone who, in 2006, twice threw pitches that registered 104 miles per hour.

Zumaya was introduced as the Twins' latest signing Thursday. It's a low-risk move that could pay off with a bounceback year by Zumaya and a stabilized Twins bullpen. The deal is worth $850,000 with the chance for Zumaya to earn another $900,000 if he appears in 60 games. His bonuses begin with his 30th appearance.

He has not thrown a pitch since June 28, 2010, when he suffered a broken elbow during an appearance for the Tigers against the Twins at Target Field. He expected to pitch during spring of 2011 but the screw placed in his elbow would not let him get full extension on his pitches.

He had a second surgery, in which the screw was replaced. He missed all of last season but threw for the Twins and many other teams in December.

"We watched Joel pitch in Houston about a month ago," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "We liked what we saw. He's certainly familiar with the American League, the American League Central. He fits us very well. We're looking for a [righthanded] power arm to pitch in the seventh and eighth inning. Hopefully we can keep Joel on the mound. Everyone knows he's had some arm problems."

Zumaya's injury history goes back to the 2006 playoffs, when he missed the American League Championship Series because of a sore wrist suffered while playing the video game "Guitar Hero." In 2007, he ruptured a tendon in his right hand. During the following offseason, he injured his shoulder while moving boxes. He landed on the DL in both 2008 and '09 because of shoulder problems.

Zumaya, 27, has averaged one strikeout per inning in his career but pitched in more than 31 games only once in five seasons with the Tigers.

"I've been through quite a few injuries," he said. "My perspective on that is clear. I have no thoughts about if I'm going to get injured. I had to go through another surgery this past year. Being out the whole year ... I needed to regroup and get real healthy. I have no thoughts coming into spring training that I'm going to lack the effort."

If Zumaya stays healthy, the bullpen might not have many spots available. Zumaya and Glen Perkins would be main setup men for closer Matt Capps. Brian Duensing is headed back to the bullpen after starting last season. Anthony Swarzak should have a leg up in the battle for a long relief role. Rule 5 draftee Terry Doyle must stay on the major league roster all season or offer him back to the White Sox for $25,000. That leaves one spot. There are 33 pitchers coming to camp.

During his workout for teams in Houston, Zumaya hit 92 to 95 mph on the radar gun, but also showed off a curveball he has been fine-tuning as well as a changeup. He will ease into spring training and won't obsess about throwing his best heat.

"There ain't no doubt in me that I will touch triple digits again this year," he said. "Maybe in the summer when it's warm, when I feel good, maybe against those Tigers."

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