Zumaya intends to stay healthy, contribute

Zumaya intends to stay healthy, contribute

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Joel Zumaya, it's a return to the Majors or bust.

Zumaya, who missed all of last season after undergoing elbow surgery, knows health will dictate whether he breaks camp with the Twins.

It's even apparent in his one-year contract, as the Twins only have to pay $400,000 of his $850,000 deal if they decide to cut him due to injury during Spring Training.

But Zumaya is keenly aware of all this, and has made it his mission to stay healthy this spring and be able to make an impact with the Twins this season.

"I didn't sign with this team to stay back, or start in Triple-A or Double-A," Zumaya said. "My mentality is I know I can pitch in the big leagues. I know I have a big league mentality, so if I'm healthy I'm going to be there. If not, I'll probably be gone. So my goal is to make this team."

When healthy, Zumaya, 27, has proved to be an overpowering pitcher with a career 3.05 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 209 2/3 innings.

But it's been a struggle for Zumaya to stay healthy since emerging with the Tigers as a rookie sensation in 2006, when he posted a 1.94 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings while regularly registering triple-digits on the radar gun.

Since that rookie season, Zumaya has yet to reach the 40-inning plateau, as he's dealt with a multitude of injuries.

It started with a finger injury that forced him to miss 96 games in 2007, a shoulder injury in '08 that cost him 72 games and another shoulder injury in '08 that caused him to miss 41 games before undergoing shoulder surgery in '09.

And then on June 28, 2010 -- pitching against the Twins at Target Field -- he fractured his elbow and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since.

He was on track to make his return with the Tigers last year, but had to undergo follow-up surgery to replace the screw in his elbow after complaining of elbow pain last Spring Training.

"The first surgery I never recovered from," Zumaya said. "I came in early with the Tigers and threw, and as soon as I started full-out, the pin they had put in there started giving me a lot of pain. Next thing you know, bone spurs -- it was chopping the back of my elbow."

Zumaya said he's fully recuperated from that surgery, and felt great during his first bullpen session with the Twins on Monday.

But the Twins are going to take it easy with Zumaya in the early going to be safe, as they are planning on backing off from having him throw on back-to-back days like they did with Joe Nathan last year when he was coming off Tommy John surgery.

"We'll just monitor his workload," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "With injuries it's all such a progression; throwing on the side is one thing, but then batting practice is a little more intense, and then when the games start the adrenaline kicks in. We just have to see how, after BP, how he feels, and after a game how he feels -- just monitor where he's after every step he takes."

Zumaya, though, said he feels healthy enough that he'll only need to be monitored early in camp, as he plans on being used like a normal reliever moving forward.

"They've said they're going to just watch over me a little bit in the beginning," Zumaya said. "I've told them, 'Don't baby me; I'm here to go full out now.' I took a whole year off, so my arm is basically healthy. Progressing will be the main thing. They want me to progress to 100 percent; they won't want me to rush out and try to blow 100 mph right out of the door. I might have been told three or four times, 'Hey, just settle down a little bit and go at your pace."

So while Zumaya has been through his share of injuries and setbacks, the one thing he says he doesn't lack is confidence.

"I have a lot of confidence," Zumaya said. "If I didn't have confidence, I never would have got signed. Going through all this, I had to let it go as the past. I'm coming in as a fresh beginning, and I'm ready to go."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.