Friday, March 14, 2008

Zumaya Must Accept That 100 mph Fastballs Are A Thing Of The Past

Joel Zumaya will never be the pitcher that he once was. You can mark my words. Put them in a time capsule if you'd like, with my name on it. Engrave it in stone, if you want -- again with me attributed. Tell everyone you know that I said it would be so.

Good thing that I have complete confidence in Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, and GM Dave Dombrowski. They all know, I'm sure, that Zumaya -- the young fireballer with the propensity for curious injuries -- needs a head coach almost as much, if not more, than a rehab guy.

They say Zumaya -- out with a shoulder injury suffered last fall when some heavy boxes fell on it in California during another of that state's natural disasters -- won't be ready until mid-season, at the earliest. What we see when he comes back remains to be seen.

But what isn't a mystery -- again, mark my words -- is that Joel Zumaya won't be the 100 mph, flame-throwing stud that he was before all this injury nonsense started. He's going to have to reinvent himself somewhat, and that's not a bad thing. Maybe this will teach him more about the subtleties of pitching. He may not have to undergo the drastic transformation that Frank Tanana did, when Tanana had to switch from being the Angels' left-handed Nolan Ryan into a -- pardon the crudeness of this term -- junkballer, but Zoom-Zoom is going to lose something. Count on it. And how he responds to that is where the need for a mind coach comes into play.

I'm also troubled because of some comments Zumaya made before spring training started, when he declared to Tigers fans that his comeback from this latest injury was personal. He talked of throwing 100 mph again. He went on a cockeyed rant about it, truthfully. It was disturbing, and I hope someone slapped some sense into him after that.

Zumaya's explosive fastball sets up his nasty breaking stuff nicely, but he can still do that, pitching in the low-to-mid 90s. If his injury robs him of even the low-90s fastball, then he's going to have to develop another pitch. It may not come to that, but you can kiss 100 mph goodbye. And if he's hell-bent on doing that, then he'll indeed turn into Mark Fidrych, as my friend Big Al so often likes to remind us.

"Come on, we all know Zoom has a million dollar arm, and a 10 cent head. In June, Zumaya will be be riding a dirt bike, while playing Guitar Hero, in midst of moving his family, hear his elbow pop, and undergo Tommy John surgery in July. He's another Fidrych! FIDRYCH, I TELL YOU!"

But Fidrych flamed out simply because he couldn't overcome injuries. Zumaya, if he goes the same route, will have gotten there because he refused to acknowledge that he cannot be what he once was -- that he had to adapt and change his style. Not an easy thing for a young player to admit.

And that's what worries me.


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