The Texas Rangers will be one of a dozen or so clubs that will be in attendance when right handed reliever Joel Zumaya throws for scouts next week in Houston. Zumaya, a flame-thrower formerly of the Detroit Tigers, missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing surgery on his right elbow.
The Tigers have expressed an interest in re-signing Zumaya, but are only willing to extend a minor league offer. Given his lengthy history of injuries, the club doesn’t feel Zumaya can be counted on going forward.
After bursting on to the scene as a rookie in 2006, Zumaya was labeled a future star closer, but a series of odd injuries have derailed his once bright future. Zumaya missed a large part part of the 2007 season thanks to a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger. That off-season, Zumaya was moving boxes out of his family’s California home ahead of advancing wildfires in the area when a large box fell on his right arm, crushing his shoulder.
Though many wondered if that injury would cost Zumaya his trademark 100 mph fastball, Zumaya returned the following year with fastball in tact, but ultimately was shut down due to a stress fracture in that same shoulder, thought to be a result of the original shoulder injury.
In 2010, finally healthy, he worked his way back into a set-up role with the Tigers and was pitching as well as he ever had. It all came to a crashing halt, however, when Zumaya’s elbow exploded while delivering a pitch in a game versus the Minnesota Twins.
The injury, a fractured bone on the tip of his elbow, had the potential to be catastrophic. There was concern that Zumaya would never regain the ability to completely straighten his right arm. He underwent surgery to repair the damage, with a screw inserted into the elbow. By Spring training in 2011, Zumaya was trowing again, and throwing well.
Unfortunately, his return lasted only one appearance. In a Grapefruit League game in March of last year, Zumaya felt soreness in his elbow and was shut down. Weeks went by with no change in his arm and eventually Dr. James Andrews performed a second surgery on the elbow, replacing one screw with another.
Word is that Zumaya is healthy once again and there is little doubt that the talent remains. But given all the injuries to his magical right arm, you almost have to wonder if Zumaya is somehow cursed. Perhaps a human being is just not built to hurl a sphere at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
The Rangers and many other clubs will surely be intrigued by what they see next week and Zumaya will get a shot to pitch again in 2012 somewhere. One can only hope that this is the year he finally can stay healthy and return to his once-dominant form.