FORT MYERS, FLA. - Righthander Joel Zumaya raised eyebrows and turned heads on Saturday as he fired pitch after pitch that thumped into catcher Chris Hermann's mitt. Zumaya was throwing hard, and impressively.
Then came a pitch that has delayed, at least temporarily, Zumaya's comeback.
After that pitch, Zumaya motioned that he had to end the session and stepped off the mound. Trainer Rick McWane met him as he stepped off and they were off to the trainer's room. Zumaya will have a magnetic resonance imaging exam of his elbow Sunday morning as the Twins cross their fingers that it's nothing serious.
''Anytime a guy gets an MRI, there's got to be concern,'' Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. ''But, I'm not going to overreact until the results come out. Let's hope it's not something serious.''
But Ryan revealed that the MRI will be taken of the inside of the elbow, which is where the ulnar collateral ligament is. That's the ligament that's repaired in Tommy John elbow surgery.
Zumaya, through a Twins official, declined comment Saturday. But he looked frustrated as he dressed at his clubhouse stall. Righthander Carl Pavano, whose stall is next to Zumaya's, attempted to offer words of encouragement.
The Twins are expected to learn the results of the MRI by Sunday evening, with the chance that nothing will be announced until Monday.
''Obviously he felt something that was discomforting so he came off, which was right,'' Ryan said. ''We've had this happen down here before. We've had people walk off the mound because they were hurt. I'm glad he came off there, we'll get it addressed tomorrow and see what the results of that MRI are. It would be a little less concerning if we didn't have the history with him, which he's experienced in his career.''
The Twins signed Zumaya to a one-year, $850,000 contract with the chance for him to earn another $900,000 if he appears in 60 games. His bonuses begin with his 30th appearance. Zumaya needs to be healthy and on the Opening Day roster to make the $850,000, or he gets $400,000.
The reason for the low-risk deal is because Zumaya, gifted with an arm that can fire fastballs at more than 100 miles per hour, has broken down through the years. He hasn't thrown more than 38 1/3 innings since his rookie season in 2006 with the Tigers because of breakdowns. He was unavailable for the 2006 American League Championship Series because of a sore wrist suffered while playing the video game "Guitar Hero."
But he had hand and shoulder injuries in 2007, then more shoulder problems in '09.
On June 29, 2010, he suffered a fractured elbow while throwing a pitch at Target Field and missed the rest of the season. He struggled to return last season and had another surgery replace the screw in his elbow, and he missed the entire season.
He hit 92-95 on the radar gun in December during a workout for many teams, including the Twins. They signed him last month.
When pitchers and catchers worked out last Sunday to open spring training, the Twins talked about taking it easy with Zumaya. The Twins envision Zumaya and Glen Perkins sharing eighth-inning duties, with Zumaya being kept from pitching back-to-back days.
''He's had some issues and had some arm injuries, and we want to protect him as much as we can,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''We know health is a big thing. We want to try to keep him for a full year and keep him on the field for a full year.''
The question now Zumaya needs just a few days off or if he has a serious injury.
''There's not a lot I give you until we get the results,'' Ryan said. ''They'll be out fairly soon. We'll get him in tomorrow morning, which is a good thing."