April 6th, 2010
Joel Zumaya is no longer looking over his shoulder at stadium radar gun to see how hard he’s throwing. He knows his manager doesn’t like it when he does that. The only way he had any idea he was hitting 102 mph at Kauffman Stadium on Monday was from his teammates in the bullpen.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel like I was throwing that hard today,” Zumaya said later.
It wasn’t exactly a priority for him. He was more concerned about throwing his curveball for strikes. The result was a nasty combination for Royals hitters and a seven-pitch sixth inning in which Zumaya sent down the side in order, getting the Tigers back to the plate for the top of the seventh to take the lead.
“Basically, I just wanted to go out there and get the hitters back in, so they could go out there and provide the runs they did,” Zumaya said.
Zumaya got second-pitch grounders from Jose Guillen and Willie Bloomquist, both on 101-mph fastballs, before he unleashed a nasty three-pitch combination to Yuniesky Betancourt. He spotted back-to-back 83 mph curveballs to start off Betancourt — the first for a called strike, the next one fouled off — before blowing his 102 mph fastball past him for a foul tip into catcher Gerald Laird’s mitt for strike three.
“I know when he’s got the good fastball, and I know the days when he’s going to have to use his breaking ball a little more,” Laird said. “I can tell [how fast it is] by receiving it. But his curveball was really good tonight, and that’s going to be a plus pitch for him to have.”
It’s that curveball that had Zumaya really pleased.
“I wanted to do what I did, get my breaking ball over early, feed off of that and climb the ladder on the fastball,” Zumaya said. “It happened just the way I wanted it to.”
It happened at the same place where Zumaya has had defining moments in his career. He made his major league debut here in 2006, when the Tigers opened the season in Kansas City. It was here, too, that Zumaya had the first of his many injuries over the past few years when he ruptured a tendon in his right middle finger while warming up in the bullpen. He’s clearly hoping this is the start of something big for him again.
The much-anticipated showdown with Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke trying to outpitch each other never quite materialized. Still, Verlander felt pretty good about his outing, despite a no-decision and no quality start.
Though Verlander gave up a two-run homer to Yuniesky Betancourt in the second inning and a two-run single to Billy Butler in the fifth, Verlander felt good about the innings he put up in between. He found a rhythm in that stretch, something it took him a handful of starts to find last year.
“I really didn’t have that feeling in the spring,” Verlander said. “But today I definitely felt it, and it’s something I can build off of.”
Velocitywise, he was strong from the outside, hitting 100 mph on the Kauffman Stadium at least twice in the first five batters he faced. Betancourt’s homer came on a 99 mph fastball, and it culminated a nine-pitch at-bat in which Betancourt fouled off three two-strike pitches. He took a 100 mph pitch to run the count full before getting Verlander’s 99 mph heater.
“Betancourt had one of the great at-bats of the day, for either team,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He fouled off some tough pitches and finally got one out there over the plate, and he whacked it. I’m always worried when a guy sees a lot of pitches in one at-bat. They normally hit it hard somewhere. They might not always get a hit, but they normally hit it hard somewhere.”
Verlander retired 10 straight hitters after that, striking out four of them, to keep it a one-run game. He gave up four straight baserunners in the fifth however, capped by Butler’s line drive to right on Verlander’s second straight 100 mph fastball.
“I think the biggest at-bat was [Scott] Podsednik,” said Verlander, referring to the walk that loaded the bases and extended the inning for Butler. “He was the catalyst for that inning, i think. I got a little out of rhythm. I had that rhythm early, the third and fourth [inning] especially, and I just kind of fell out of sync a little bit.”
Verlander threw 33 pitches that inning — many of them fastballs giving him 93 pitches through five. In hindsight, it cost him a chance at a victory, since one more inning would’ve put him in line as the pitcher of record going into the seventh. However, Leyland said he had no problem with Verlander’s pitching and expects him to settle in.
The no-decision leaves Verlander winless in three straight Opening Day starts. In those three outings, he has given up 16 runs on 18 hits over 11 2/3 innings, racking up 16 strikeouts.