Zumaya contrite about struggles
Tigers fireballer attributes lapse in control to overconfidence
CHICAGO -- Joel Zumaya lives big, from his big body and big fastball to his big curve. With Jimi Hendrix blaring at Comerica Park, he makes a big entrance into big games, during which he usually plays a big role.
On Wednesday, Zumaya said, his big unraveling came in part because he got a big head. Thursday, as the rain knocked out the series finale against the White Sox, was Zumaya's time to feel kind of small.
"I've been getting overconfident in myself," Zumaya said Thursday, a day after he walked four straight batters in the ninth inning of a six-run game before being pulled. "I sat there and got in that trap to hear the crowd when I come in. Now I'm falling into that trap where I think nobody can hit me.
"I'm a very humble person. I got full of myself. It was embarrassing."
Whether it was too much confidence or too little concentration in a six-run game, Zumaya fell into the trap so deeply that nobody really had to hit him. He erased a leadoff hit with a double play, but when he hit A.J. Pierzynski with an 0-2 pitch in the dirt, he seemingly unraveled. Four walks followed, two of them on four pitches. Nine of his final 10 pitches were ruled to have missed the strike zone.
It was not a pretty scene for Zumaya, who sat and stared into his locker after Todd Jones finished up the win. He still wasn't happy on Thursday, but he was contrite about what happened, putting blame on himself -- not the weather, not the score, but himself.
"You could see from the first pitch, I was not myself," he said. "I was not concentrating and I was not locked in. I was just all over the place. I was just not there."
His control issues certainly weren't himself; Zumaya had walked multiple batters in a game only eight times in his previous 71 career Major League appearances, not counting the postseason. Of those, he had walked back-to-back hitters just once.
That, Zumaya realizes, is going to happen again before his career is over. How he reacts to it was another matter.
The more balls Zumaya threw, the more frustrated he became at the strike zone. By his fourth and final walk to Juan Uribe, which brought the tying run to the plate, Zumaya was shouting choice words at home-plate umpire Mark Wegner between pitches. Once Tigers manager Jim Leyland removed Zumaya, he had more words for Wegner, shouting at him on his way to the dugout.
"I never do it [normally]," Zumaya said. "And my apologies go to the umpire. I wanted to tell him [afterward] that's not me. That was very stupid of me."
Asked if he thought any of his final pitches were close, Zumaya said he was too wild all inning -- not just in his pitching, but his demeanor -- to expect to get a call on the corner.
"I yelled at him quite a few times," Zumaya said, "and that's probably why the zone shrank. ... That guy's one of my favorite umps. I've never shown up an ump like that."
And that was why Zumaya felt so embarrassed in retrospect.
"I wasn't disappointed as much in doing what I did," Zumaya said. "I was more disappointed in how I acted out there, because I do watch [Jones]. When the zone shrinks, when things get tough, he doesn't start yelling."
That, Zumaya believes, is one of the reasons he feels he has a lot to learn before he can become a closer, no matter what fans might believe or experts might prognosticate about his future.
Though Zumaya criticized himself for overconfidence, he has never said he believes he's ready to close. He has always deferred to Jones, who has served as a mentor for him since last Spring Training. They hadn't talked about the whole episode yet as of Thursday afternoon, but they likely will.
"I'm not ready yet, I can tell you that," Zumaya said. "I'm not ready yet to be the closer for this team. There's a lot for me to learn. Last night showed I have a lot to learn."
Jones, who ended up retiring Brian Anderson to end the game, didn't go overboard with the teaching points.
"His outing last night," Jones said, "was one of those rare times when he had trouble finding the strike zone. That's going to happen to everybody. There's probably a few things he'd do differently, but it's all learning. He'll learn from it, and it'll make him a better pitcher in the long run."
As for Zumaya's exchange with Wegner, Jones said, "It's 6-0. The ump wants to get out of there as quick as anybody. That's the big thing to learn from last night. No matter what happens, you have to keep your professionalism."
Jones does not expect Wednesday's outing to affect Zumaya's relationship with umpires long-term, saying umpires will take it as a learning experience for a second-year pitcher who has not had many experiences with failure since arriving in the big leagues.
Zumaya would've liked to take what he has learned onto the mound Thursday night, if anything just to get that feeling out of his system.
"I'm 22 years old," he said. "This is the first it's ever happened to me. I learned really well what it feels like to get kicked."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.