Zumaya wants to rely less on his fastball

Zumaya wants to rely less on his fastball

Published Jan. 19, 2012 11:13 a.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Zumaya, the newest member of the Minnesota Twins, will be pitching at Target Field plenty this summer. But it's a stadium that doesn't elicit pleasant memories for the 27-year-old right-handed reliever.

The last time Zumaya threw a pitch in the major leagues was against the Twins at Target Field. Playing for Detroit on June 28, 2010, Zumaya let a fastball go toward home plate. Minnesota's Delmon Young — a good friend of Zumaya's now with the Tigers — fouled off the pitch. But Zumaya was in pain instantly, walking around the pitcher's mound before falling to the ground.

"I just felt my arm just explode. It wasn't pleasant," Zumaya said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. "It knocked me down to my knees. I hadn't been knocked down to my knees since a high school fight."

The injury, diagnosed as a fractured elbow, required multiple surgeries and forced Zumaya to miss the entire 2011 season. He was a free agent this offseason and was officially signed by the Twins on Wednesday to a one-year contract.

Zumaya is projected as a middle reliever or setup man with the Twins.

First, he had a workout in front of scouts last month in Houston. Zumaya reportedly threw his fastball in the mid-90s. The right-handed flamethrower was known to hit triple digits on the radar gun before his injury, but he said he's not concerned right now about throwing 100 mph.

"You just can't throw by people now. For me, 100 is overrated," Zumaya said. "I've toned it down a little bit where I know I've grown up as a pitcher a little bit now, just being injured and having to go through these injuries and having to learn how to pitch in the big leagues."

Zumaya said he has worked on his curveball this offseason, as well as a changeup to keep opposing hitters off-balance. Although he's comfortable throwing 95-96 mph right now, Zumaya is also confident he can get back to his days of hitting 100 mph.

"There ain't no doubt, to me, that I'll touch triple-digits again this year, maybe in the summer when it's warm, when I feel good. Maybe against those Tigers," Zumaya said. "Right now, I'm going to stick to me being a little bit more mature as a pitcher and pitching, pounding that strike zone at 95-96, throwing a nice curveball over and throwing the changeup to get those batters off."

As a rookie in 2006, Zumaya helped the Tigers advance to the World Series, where Detroit lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games. The hard-throwing Zumaya appeared in 62 games that year and struck out 97 batters in 83-1/3 innings.

That is the most innings he has pitched in a season. But Zumaya is confident he'll return to the mound healthy in 2012 as he tries to help his new team beat out his old one for the American League Central title.

"I've been through quite a few injuries already," Zumaya said. "My perspective on that, it's clear I don't have (any) thoughts in my mind where I feel like I'm going to get injured. I had to go through another surgery this past year. Being out the whole year basically gave me a whole year I needed to recuperate and get real healthy."

Zumaya isn't the only player the Twins are hoping will return to full health in 2012. Two of the key pieces from previous years — catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau — missed significant time in 2011 because of various injuries.

To compete in the AL Central and bounce back from its 99-loss season, Minnesota will need its two biggest bats back in the lineup.

"If we get Joe, Morneau and me and a few other guys, if we all get healthy, I believe that we're going to be there with the Tigers and it's going to come down to that," Zumaya said. "I'm 27 years old. I still have a lot of gas in my tank."

Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Thursday that he sees Zumaya and left-hander Glen Perkins as the perfect 1-2 punch to pitch the seventh and eighth innings and set up closer Matt Capps. And although Zumaya's addition means Minnesota now has a full 40-man roster, Ryan said the Twins will always have an eye open.

"I don't think you can ever get to the point where you think your roster's perfect," Ryan said. "We'll continue to keep looking around. I don't know whether or not anybody's going to be out there that fits us, but, nonetheless, I don't think you should ever be just saying that you're all set to go."