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Could Zumaya Enter the Closer's Race?

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Coming into Spring Training, the closer's job looked to be a competition between Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney. (That's if you believe, by the way, that there's even really a competition.) But are we overlooking a third contestant in this race? Joel Zumaya says he wants some of this closer action.

From Jason Beck's story at tigers.com:

"I've got two guys that I'm going to be fighting for the role," Zumaya said after throwing his latest bullpen session off a mound on Wednesday. "They're going to be friends. We're going to be part of the team. But when we're out there, it's going to be competitive."

Obviously, the man who gets the saves is the Big Sexy of the bullpen. And if Zumaya actually shows he's properly healed and outpitches Lyon and Rodney, he'll have earned the job. (Everyone surrounding him, however, had best advise Glass Joel not to push it. I subscribe to Samara's "bubble wrap" approach. )

But is the Tigers' bullpen really better with Zumaya as the closer or as a set-up man who can be used in high leverage situations in the seventh and eighth innings? That certainly worked well for Detroit in 2006.

One interesting nugget in both Beck's article and Lynn Henning's piece on Zumaya's progress is the difference of medical opinion between the doctor previously looking at Zumaya's shoulder (who I'm presuming was on the Tigers' medical staff) and that of the renowned Dr. James Andrews ("the most valuable player in sports"). Zumaya was originally told to shut it down for three weeks, until Andrews said NFL quarterbacks with similar injuries were able to throw.

Add the throwing program from pitching coach Rick Knapp that emphasized long toss to build up arm strength, and Zumaya says he feels like he's going north to Detroit.

One more thing, which could show that Zumaya is learning that he has to pitch, not just throw hard, as he works his way back: There could be a change-up in the future.

"I've been working on a really good changeup," Zumaya said. "So I have a new toy to come up with, just to throw hitters off a little bit."

Mix that in with what looked like a pretty nasty curveball when Zumaya was healthy enough to pitch in 2007 and 2008, and Number 54 could be a whole lot of fun to watch this season. Dare we start getting our hopes up?