As it turns out, there may have been a more substantial reason for Joel Zumaya's struggles last night, one far more tangible than "he stinks right now."
But let's not bury the lede. Zumaya was on his way back to Detroit this morning to undergo a MRI exam on his pitching shoulder. In light of that, the Tigers placed Zumaya on the 15-day disabled list with a sore shoulder and recalled Ryan Perry from Triple-A Toledo to take his spot on the roster.
In 13.2 innings with the Mud Hens since being sent down in mid-June, Perry compiled three saves with 13 strikeouts. His record is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA. Earlier this season, Perry appeared in 27.1 innings for Detroit, posted 25 strikeouts and 21 walks, along with a 4.68 ERA.
Soon after giving up Mark Teixeira's decisive three-run homer, Zumaya said he began to feel "serious pain" in his right shoulder. How soon after the homer? Jim Leyland left his pitcher out there to dry in that seventh inning, probably wanting to save his bullpen once the lead was relinquished, but surely would've made a change had he known Zumaya was hurt.
John Lowe's report says Zumaya felt the pain "several batters after," but Zumaya he went on to face six batters, throwing 25 pitches in the process. At what point did the pain begin (Zumaya said he "felt a pop"), and how long did he try to pitch through it? Or did the throbbing pain in Zumaya's shoulder - which prevented him from lifting his arm following the game - set in after he came out?
(EDIT: Lowe's story clarifies that Zumaya's shoulder began barking five batters after Teixeira's homer.)
For now, Zumaya's injury prevents the Tigers from deciding whether to move him to a less important mop-up role in the bullpen or perhaps even send him to the minors to work on his control. (He has three options remaining.) He'd already been taken out of the pivotal eighth inning set-up role, in favor of Brandon Lyon.
However, this injury raises almost as many questions as it does provide answers. Was Zumaya fighting increasing shoulder soreness over the past month, as he steadily became a less dependable late-inning option for the Tigers? (Tiger Tales lists each of his recent blown saves.) Was the injury caused by whatever mechanical issues may have also been causing Zumaya's lack of control (22 walks in 31 innings)?
And maybe this is something that will have to be addressed after the season, rather than right now, because the Tigers need Zumaya - or rather, a dependable Zumaya - in their bullpen, but what about down the line? Given his injury history (and we didn't coin the "Glass Joel" nickname just because it was catchy), is it time for the team to seriously think about moving him into the starting rotation, teaching Zumaya to pace himself through longer outings, rather than cut loose for an inning?
He obviously throws extremely hard. Last night was the first time he wasn't consistently clocked at 100 m.p.h. (and maybe that should've been a tip-off), but where exactly is that getting Zumaya? We're all awed by the rocket power his right arm is capable of showing off, but batters were either able to catch up to a fastball that didn't have much movement or waiting for Zumaya to throw an off-speed pitch.
But maybe Zumaya's shoulder is showing what many people (expert or otherwise) have often feared: the human body just isn't meant to throw that hard on a regular basis.