Torn elbow ligament to cost Zumaya 2012
Oft-injured reliever hurt in first live BP session for Twins
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins general manager Terry Ryan leaned back in the chair in his office on the third floor of Hammond Stadium and rubbed his brow.
"It's not the news I wanted to hear on Sunday morning, I can tell you that," Ryan said.
The day began with Joel Zumaya sliding into an MRI machine to have his right elbow examined. On Saturday, the hard-throwing reliever stopped his pitching session short after tossing just 13 pitches during a live batting-practice session.
When Ryan learned of the results, he knew the "high-risk, high-reward" of Zumaya had turned into a season-ender.
The 27-year-old reliever, who used to toss 100-mph fastballs with regularity, is finished for the 2012 campaign with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Zumaya signed an incentive-laden one-year contract in January with $400,000 guaranteed, and he could have earned anywhere between $850,000 to $1.7 million based on his performance this season. He is on the 40-man roster, and the Twins will have to make a decision on his status.
"I took a risk," Ryan said. "It was a high risk with high reward. Unfortunately, it didn't work. And he feels bad, I feel bad. But we're not going to let it define this club and the season.
"Obviously we're going to have injuries. This is one that I didn't particularly want to see this early, obviously, because things were going fine. But it happened, and we've got to deal with it."
Ryan said Zumaya will decide over the next few days on the future of his career, including whether to have Tommy John surgery. The Twins will also have to make a decision on his status.
"That's what we have to talk about tomorrow when he comes back," Ryan said. "What's he going to want to do with his future. We have areas where we're protected, he has areas he's protected by. If his career at this point comes to a halt, that's one decision. If he wants to have Tommy John, that's another. I'll be interested to see what he decides."
A tell-tale sign might be the fact that Zumaya had cleared out most of the items from his locker except for his glove.
"Man, that is really tough to hear," Francisco Liriano said when told of the news. "He's been through a lot. I feel bad for him."
The Twins were hoping Zumaya could find the magic he had his rookie season with the Tigers in 2006, when he had a 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings. The flamethrower has had five surgeries since then, including two on his elbow, two on his shoulder and one on his right middle finger.
A December workout attended by 20 teams in which Zumaya was clocked at 92-94 mph, and a subsequent physical and examination by team doctors, convinced Ryan to sign the five-year veteran.
"Any general manager who has ever been in this chair for any length of time takes a chance on something, and if you don't take chances, you probably wouldn't want this position," Ryan said. "I'm much more conservative than a lot of general managers, I think that's safe to say, but I thought this was worth the chance after we did the MRIs.
"We had our people look at him in Houston. It's ironic that he tore this ligament, because that was one of the areas he was healthy, but when you have something break and sometimes other things go too, that's the chance you take, and that's the chance we took, I took. I'll take full responsibility for the decision. It just didn't work. It's as simple as that."
The loss of Zumaya means other pitchers in camp have an opportunity to fill the righty's expected role, including Alex Burnett, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak. Jason Bulger, Casey Fien, Jeff Gray, Matt Maloney, Lester Oliveros and Esmerling Vasquez are other pitchers who have been discussed, as well.
"It will be interesting to see how some of these guys respond," Ryan said. "If I'm one of those guys down in that clubhouse, there's some innings to be had. You want to make the team, let's go. I'm not saying anyone wishes for a guy to get hurt, but you have to take advantage of opportunities. There's one right now, the sixth day of camp."
Manager Ron Gardenhire hadn't taken the next step in figuring out who would replace Zumaya, only to say he's been able to see many pitchers working hard.
"I have no idea what it does for us, because I haven't even gone that far," Gardenhire said. "I didn't plan. We planned on seeing how we got through this thing, and obviously we're not going to get through it with him, so we'll ad-lib from there.
"The only thing I do know is I feel for the kid. The kid's a really good kid. You get to know people from the other side, and he looks like some monster out there pitching against you. But you get him in your clubhouse and you realize there's special people and he's a special person, and it's a really sad day for him and his family and our baseball team, too, because we were all hoping this guy would be able to get back on this thing and make it through. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
Ryan and Gardenhire both alluded to the fact that the team will focus on the pitchers in camp before making a decision on whether to bring in anyone from outside the organization via a trade.
"Somebody's going to have a better chance to make this ballclub, and that's the way it's going to be," Ryan said. "There's no gray area here."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.