DETROIT — Joel Zumaya's fastballs go by in an instant. Unfortunately, so does Zumaya. Zoom Zoom will be available for the Tigers in San Diego on Friday night, which should increase the number of Padres begging for a day off.
From all reports, Zumaya looks like his old, electrifying self. If that's really the case, the Tigers will have one of the most intimidating late-inning weapons in the game.
If that's not the case, well, unfortunately, we've seen this before. Zumaya is in his third season and already has suffered major injuries to his finger and shoulder, as well as some wrist and forearm trouble.
(Look down, folks. That pretty much covers the whole arm.) Nobody, including Zumaya, knows whether he is back for good. For his sake, let's hope so. And let's think of what that can do for the Tigers.
Since the start of the 2006 season, the Tigers have a .580 winning percentage with Zumaya on the active roster and a .517 winning percentage with Zumaya on the disabled list.
This is partly coincidence, of course. But it is partly a testament to Zumaya's ability and presence. There is something to be said for a guy who hits triple digits on the radar gun, and that something is "HOLY $%$%! "
Zumaya can give this team some buzz again. And, no, you can't win games on buzz. But ballplayers are human, as susceptible to mental fatigue and adrenaline rushes as the rest of us. When Jim Leyland said recently that the Tigers' young players were giving them an energy boost, I thought immediately about what Zumaya could do.
And if Zumaya is healthy and effective, he gives the Tigers a closer whenever Todd Jones finally declines.
He could be one of the most valuable people in the whole organization. I just hope he realizes it. Zumaya's forearm and wrist soreness partly resulted from playing his favorite video game, "Guitar Hero." He said he hurt his shoulder moving boxes in preparation for forest fires at his San Diego home last fall.
This spring, photos of Zumaya doing a keg stand circulated on the Internet. The way he handled it was classic Zumaya.
Many athletes would dodge questions from reporters. Zumaya is so sensitive to public perception that he is the one who brought up the topic in a media session. He is honest enough that he acknowledged the photos were taken at the end of spring training this year. He could have said they were old photos, but he didn't.
And yet Zumaya still didn't quite get it. He said that he did not place any stress on his shoulder during his keg stand. He said, "I never thought having a keg at the house was a bad thing."
Pitchers with $50-million arms don't do keg stands. And if that sounds like moralizing, let me be clear: This isn't about the keg. It's about the stand.
Zumaya should be drinking his beer from a locked and upright position, like the rest of us. I saw the photos, and if he wasn't putting stress on his shoulder, that's only because his buddies were holding him up. What if one of them slipped?
When Zumaya takes the mound this weekend, it truly will be an amazing moment. Forget about a second chance at stardom. He is on his third chance. He has slimmed down, a sign that he is taking his fitness and career seriously.
With a little luck, a bit of common sense and a whole lot of velocity, Joel Zumaya could own this town. He has the charisma and the fastball. Let's see if he can harness them both.