Inbox: Will Zumaya bounce back from injury?

Inbox: Will Zumaya bounce back from injury?

I read something about Phil Coke as a possible starter; I just saw his statistics in Double-A and Triple-A and they were decent. A left-handed starter in the Tigers' rotation should not be automatic, but with the plethora of Tiger arms, this should be considered. What do you think?
- Charles G., Lincoln Park, Mich.

The question regarding Coke as a starter is whether he can pitch the same style in that role that he did as a reliever last year. Some folks who saw Coke in both roles say he threw harder -- 3-5 mph harder -- and more effectively out of the bullpen, which is what happens with more than a few successful relievers. It's tougher to maintain that velocity when you're throwing more pitches as a starter, obviously.

No question, it would be good for the Tigers to have a lefty in their rotation, especially if that rotation is stacked with power right-handers depending on Jeremy Bonderman. I'm not sure the Tigers would make Coke a starter solely for that reason, though, if they didn't think he would be nearly as effective doing so. Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis could have some impact on that, but it's awfully hard to project that happening this far out.

The better factor from that standpoint, and the big factor in the Tigers' favor, is that they have so many lefty relievers who could contribute. They could conceivably have three southpaws in their bullpen even without Coke if Daniel Schlereth and Brad Thomas step up alongside Bobby Seay and Fu-Te Ni.

What is the basis for believing Joel Zumaya could be a closer, or even a setup guy? The questions about him only deal with his health, but even when he was throwing 100 mph last year, he still got hit -- hard and often.
-- Joe B., Buffalo, NY

Actually, his issues the last couple years have usually been more about hitting the strike zone than getting hit, His hit totals weren't good either, obviously, but five of those 34 hits he gave up over 32 innings came in his final outing of the season July 17 at Yankee Stadium, where he said his shoulder flared up and where he was left in to finish out the inning with 36 pitches.

Bottom line, you're right about the questions. Zumaya has issues beyond health that he needs to fix, and they basically revolve around getting a better mix of pitches rather than relying too much on his fastball. But Zumaya gets that, and when he was healthy last year, he put in his work trying to make those changes. Nobody's guaranteeing he's going to do it, but if he does, you have the makings of a very effective late-inning reliever. We're not just talking about a serviceable guy here.

I realize he has a significant contract, but why so much loyalty for Carlos Guillen? Do the Tigers fully expect him to rebound this year? He is an 11-year veteran who has played four or five full seasons, that seems like a lot of trust for too great a risk. -- Matt B., Grand Haven, Mich.

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You're right, the contract is significant. You can't shrug that off, and you can't trade it. At this point, it's a risk you have to take. Still, if he's even relatively healthy, Guillen is not only starter worthy, but better than most of the hitters currently on the team, not to mention a switch-hitting bat in a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup.

I know the injury history is hanging over Guillen, and it should, but I do think he's getting a little bit shortchanged. He had at least 109 games played and 450 plate appearances in seven of his previous eight seasons before last year, when he did not post an .800 OPS for the first time in six seasons as a Tiger. His legs -- the source of much of that injury history -- have been healthy for two years, when his injuries have been to his back and shoulder.

Those numbers were down last year, but consider this: Take away that miserable opening stretch before he went on the DL in May, and Guillen hit for an .874 OPS over the final two-plus months after he came back, batting .262 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 221 plate appearances. A lot of that came batting left-handed against right-handed pitchers. Even when he slumped down the stretch, he drew 18 walks over 72 plate appearances.

Is he a risk with the injuries? Absolutely. But there's also a very nice reward if he can overcome those.

Are the Tigers going to do the caravan tour this year? They need to get out and meet the fans after all of the changes they made. -- David, Dearborn, Mich.

The Tigers will have their winter caravan once again, David. They'll be on the road Jan. 20-22, leading up to TigerFest Jan. 23 at Comerica Park.

Full schedule and roster of players and coaches should be out shortly, but two events with the Tigers' nearby Minor League affiliates are already out. Manager Jim Leyland, Scott Sizemore, Jeff Larish, Eddie Bonine and Don Kelly are scheduled to be at the Toledo Mud Hens' Fandemonium dinner Jan. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at Lucas County Arena in downtown Toledo.

On that same night, the West Michigan Whitecaps will hold their annual winter baseball banquet in Grand Rapids, where new Tigers first-base coach Tom Brookens, top pitching prospect Casey Crosby and assistant GM Al Avila are among the scheduled guests.

Does Ryan Strieby have the ability to play third? Would the Tigers look at seeing what he can do playing the hot corner?
-- Mike C., Eastpointe, Mich.

Not really. He has a big body, and unlike Larish, he was primarily a first baseman in college. The Tigers see left field as their best chance of finding another position for him.

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