FORT MYERS, FLA. — In desperate need of a bullpen upgrade, the Twins took a chance on righthander Joel Zumaya, a pitcher blessed with incredible power but cursed with fragility.
They began to look forward to games in which Zumaya would enter in the eighth inning, throw some fastballs that approach 100 miles per hour, strike out batters and then hand the ball to closer Matt Capps.
Those moments will never materialize, as Zumaya on Sunday was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that will force him to miss the entire 2012 season. In order to pitch again, Zumaya will need Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. But Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said Sunday that Zumaya is "distraught" and is deciding whether he wants to go through another lengthy rehabilitation or end his career.
"I'll wait to talk to him in the next day or so when he comes back to give you guys an idea of exactly what he thinks, where he's at," Ryan said.
The 27-year-old Zumaya, who was unavailable for comment Sunday, was injured Saturday when he stopped his batting practice session after 13 pitches and walked off the field. A magnetic resonance imaging exam Sunday confirmed the tear. Since 2006, Zumaya hasn't thrown more than 38 2/3 innings in a season because of injuries up and down his talented arm. He had wrist problems late in 2006, hand and shoulder injuries in 2007, more shoulder problems in 2009 and fractured his elbow in 2010 during a June game at Target Field.
"I feel bad for the guy," said lefthander Francisco Liriano, who missed all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery.
Zumaya's injury history is why the Twins signed him to a one-year deal worth $850,000 with another $900,000 in appearance bonuses. However, Zumaya had to make the Opening Day roster to collect the full $850,000. Instead, he will receive $400,000.
"Unfortunately, it didn't work," Ryan said. "And he feels bad, I feel bad. But we're not going to let it define this club and the season. Obviously we're going to have injuries. This is one that I didn't particularly want to see this early, obviously, because things were going fine. But it happened, and we've got to deal with it. Now there's opportunities."
Ryan said the club will not look to bring in free-agent relievers, pointing out that there are still 32 pitchers in camp and he would like to see what he has in-house. Trades are always a possibility, Ryan said, but, again, he prefers to evaluate to pitchers in camp.
As of now, Glen Perkins is the only pitcher the Twins trust in the eighth inning. Ryan mentioned Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett and Brian Duensing as pitchers the Twins will need to step up. And, even before camp started, Ryan had maintained that someone was going to come out of nowhere and surprise in this camp.
"I have not seen many of these [new] guys so it would be unfair to ask me what they look like," he said. "I would like to think that Duensing, Swarzak and Burnett, they are capable. But until we start playing games ... watching workouts and side sessions, I don't take a whole lot of stock in that. It's when you get out here and start facing 'A' lineups, that's when you start to evaluate and separate."
Suddenly, the door opened a little more for pitchers such as Jared Burton, Jason Bulger, Matt Maloney, Jeff Manship, Kyle Waldrop and Jeff Gray. There's also Rule 5 draftee Terry Doyle, who has to remain on the major league roster all season or be offered back to his original club, the White Sox.
Ryan looked up at a wall in his office, where the Twins roster is hanging among the 30 teams in the major leagues.
"There's a bunch of guys up there that might [step up], and there's a bunch of nonroster invites that might," he said. "Until we start playing games and see how people respond, it would be premature to say who's going to take that spot."