Zumaya deemed fit after shoulder exam
Right-hander diagnosed with 'normal Spring Training soreness'
TAMPA, Fla. -- Even as Joel Zumaya mowed his way past opposing hitters in his early Spring Training appearances, Tigers manager Jim Leyland always used the words "if he's healthy" before describing what Zumaya could mean to the club.
Friday was an example of why Leyland does that. Zumaya spent the day getting a second opinion that reassured him the discomfort he had in his shoulder over the last few days was nothing worse than normal inflammation.
Tests proved negative, and the exam from noted specialist Dr. James Andrews showed what Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand described as "normal Spring Training soreness." Andrews cleared Zumaya to resume pitching in a couple days once the dye clears from an MRI exam.
Team officials hope the precautionary exam, which Zumaya requested, gives him some peace of mind that he can keep progressing in his road back from shoulder injuries that have sidelined him for much of the past two seasons. Still, it also serves as a reminder what Zumaya is trying to overcome in his return.
The discomfort came after Zumaya had a very encouraging inning of work in Monday's exhibition against Florida Southern College.
"He threw the ball very well -- he was very happy," Rand said. "The next day, he came in with some tightness and some soreness in his shoulder, but it looked to be normal. He threw out to 150 [feet]. Even [Thursday], he threw, but he just said it felt a little different to him. And dealing with Joel and the fact that he's got kind of an unusual shoulder now, we wanted to make sure that there was nothing more going on. To be honest with you, we wanted him to be reassured that everything's OK."
To do that, the Tigers set up the visit with Andrews, who had examined Zumaya during the offseason when he had experienced some shoulder issues during his rehab, before he began throwing. It was Andrews who reassured Zumaya in December that despite the stress fracture in the shoulder, he should be able to throw normally with a condition that several NFL quarterbacks have also played through.
Andrews examined Zumaya on Friday morning in Pensacola, Fla., where he has a second office besides his primary institute in Birmingham, Ala. The Tigers received word late Friday afternoon that there were no structural issues.
Zumaya's shoulder -- as well as the AC joint, which was surgically rebuilt after the 2007 season -- were unchanged from his previous exam. That shoulder surgically kept him out until June of last year. The stress fracture was diagnosed in August and shut down Zumaya for the rest of the season.
The inflammation is unrelated to those previous injuries, Rand said.
"You have to understand, he's gone through an awful lot," Rand said.
That said, his progress since he resumed throwing in January had been positive by all accounts. Zumaya himself was extremely upbeat after his last outing, which featured a steady diet of breaking balls. He has essentially pitched his way to the point where the Tigers are extremely optimistic about his chances to be in Detroit's bullpen on Opening Day.
Leyland and others have said they'll use the extra time this Spring Training to be cautious with players coming off of injuries or experiencing them, as they've shown with Zumaya and starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman.
"We want to know if there's any red flags," Leyland said. "You can see sometimes in the way a guy's throwing, but if somebody were to tell me that Joel might want to get looked at or something after seeing him pitch against Florida Southern, I would've said, 'Holy cow.' Ninety-seven [mph] with a hook like that, you had to be feeling good when you were throwing. There's no way you can feel bad throwing like that, I don't think. Now, the next day, that's a different story."
Because Zumaya hasn't missed much time and has been stretched out, Leyland indicated he should be able to go back onto the mound in a couple days rather than playing catch first.
Neither Zumaya's recent shoulder issue nor Bonderman's should set them back for Opening Day at this point, Leyland said. However, he isn't guaranteeing anything should there be more issues.
"Do I think they're going to be fine? Yes, I do," Leyland said. "Do I think there will be some times when it doesn't feel just right? Yes, I think there will be. Do I think they'll both be ready for Opening Day? I really don't know."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.