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Zumaya injures elbow throwing pitch

Zumaya injures elbow throwing pitch

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Joel Zumaya has already had to battle through more arm injuries than a 25-year-old probably deserves. But for everything he endured, he never looked in as much pain as he did on the mound at Target Field Monday night.

All the Tigers knew Monday night was that it was officially a right elbow injury; they didn't want to speculate how severe before he underwent an MRI exam Tuesday morning. But the sight of the hardest-throwing man in baseball writhing in pain, his right thumb literally twitching as the Tigers' athletic trainers held onto him, left teammates and club officials stunned.

"You heard something different when he let the ball go, and it didn't sound good," said catcher Gerald Laird, his eyes watering up as he talked about it.

"My first reaction is to follow the ball, and then ... I see him go down, and the pain it looked like he was in, you don't wish on anybody. I didn't really want to go out there, because I didn't think it was going to look good, how much pain he was in."

A 99-mph fastball to Delmon Young in the eighth inning of the Tigers' 7-5 win over the Twins sent Zumaya clutching his right elbow and shaking his hand. Suddenly, as if the pain suddenly hit him, he knelt to the ground in apparent agony.

Laird said he heard "a little pop" when Zumaya threw the pitch.

Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand rushed to the mound, followed by manager Jim Leyland, to attend to Zumaya, who had tears in his eyes. And for several minutes, one of baseball's most intimidating men was helpless on the ground as trainers tried to get him in as comfortable a position as possible before taking him off the field and into the training room.

Zumaya eventually walked off the field on his own power, clutching his arm against his body with help from Rand and assistant athletic trainer Steve Carter.

"It just breaks your heart," Leyland said. "I'm sick. I'm sick to my stomach. It's just the grind of the game. Like I've said forever, every pitcher that's ever pitched a game is one pitch away from his last one.

"I'm not going to paint a dark picture here because I don't know. I'm not a medical person here. We're going to wait and go through the proper channels and let the proper people make a determination of what it is. I don't want to speculate other than that it was obvious he was in a huge amount of pain. We're hoping for the best."

There was an encouraging sign when Zumaya emerged from the training room after the game and sat at his locker for a few minutes with his right arm in a sling. He said he would talk with reporters on Tuesday.

Zumaya was enjoying what was setting up to be his first healthy season since 2006, when he was one of baseball's best rookie relievers and overpowered the American League with his 100-mph fastball. A series of injuries have derailed his career since.

Zumaya missed about half the 2007 season after dislocating his right middle finger while warming up in the bullpen at Kansas City. He made it back for the stretch run of a playoff race, but suffered a more severe injury when he dislocated the AC joint in his shoulder that October in an accident at his family's home in San Diego.

Zumaya pitched in just 21 games in 2008 before being shut down with a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder. After consulting with noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, he rehabbed without surgery and made it back for 29 games last year, before a bone shard in the same shoulder forced him to undergo surgery after all.

Zumaya pitched in 62 games as a rookie in '06. He hadn't pitched in 30 games in a season since then, until he pitched Saturday at Atlanta. Monday night was his 31st appearance of the season.

Zumaya entered the night with a 2-1 record and 2.63 ERA, having struck out 34 batters over 37 2/3 innings. With fellow setup man Ryan Perry on the DL the past few weeks with shoulder tendinitis, Zumaya had taken over eighth-inning duties.

His comeback attempt had earned the respect of teammates and people around baseball.

"This guy has one of the best, most gifted arms I've ever seen," said Laird. "He came into Spring Training this year and he had something to prove. To me, he was proving it. He was pitching when he needed him, and he was pitching big innings. He's been a big part of this bullpen. It's just hard to see this happen right now. It's just really tough to swallow right now."

Of all the injuries he has had, his elbow had been sound.

"I feel terrible," said Jeremy Bonderman, a teammate of Zumaya since '06. "I've been through rehab, and I know what he's been through. It definitely looks like he's headed down the path of rehab. It's a bad scene, man. You feel for the guy, and you just hope he comes back to be the guy he used to be."

Zumaya was in his second inning of work Monday when the injury happened. He earned the last out in the seventh inning by retiring Michael Cuddyer, then got a groundout from Jim Thome. He had a full count on Young when the injury struck.

"It's scary, sad, something you never want to see," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I've seen injuries before and it's never, ever easy. Your heart's out to him. You're thinking about him and their ballclub over there. That's a really bad feeling to see him go down like that. He's a nice, young man, a great pitcher, and you hope everything works out for him."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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