photo illustration by Samara Pearlstein
The most important thing to come from tonight’s game never even got onto the field.
Joel Zumaya was warming up in the bullpen when sudden pain in his hand forced him to stop and got the attention of the dugout. The trainer ran across the field (we got a very dramatic clip of this from the Royals’ cameras; thank you Extra Innings and RSTN) and into the bullpen, where Zoom was hunching over his… hand? Hip? It wasn’t entirely clear, and as the game proceeded almost immediately (with Bobby Seay coming on to redeem himself for his behavior in the previous game), we were left wondering. What was hurt? How bad was it? When will he be back? What will it mean for the team? Who the heck manages to injure themselves while warming up in the bullpen?
What was hurt?
Zoom’s throwing hand, seemingly his middle finger. Information is sketchy right now, but he “‘felt something pop’ around the top knuckle of his middle finger” (Mothership article) and they believe it may be a dislocation of that finger/knuckle. Knuckles are places where finger bones meet; a dislocation here involves a shift in either one or both of the meeting bones. As you might imagine, there are a number of small muscles and ligaments attached to these bones, so that your fingers can move. It’s likely (please bear in mind, throughout all of this, that I’m nowhere near a medical professional, so do try to keep the panic to a dull throb) that a severe dislocation will have torn or otherwise injured one of these as well.
How bad was it?
We don’t know. He went to the hospital right away but I wouldn’t expect the team to have released any test results yet even if they have them. They immediately threw him on the DL, which could mean that they know he’s badly hurt, but it could also mean that they’re just being extra cautious because of his age, ability, and likelihood of injuring himself further if he tries to keep pitching. If it’s bone dislocation, it’s PRETTY bad, because you don’t want to be messing with the fingers of your throwing hand and risking a derangement of whatever kind of balance is goin’ on in there. If it’s bone dislocation with a ligament tear, it’s REALLY bad, because that is both harder to heal and also takes much longer… and could involve surgery.
When will he be back?
Knuckle dislocations generally must be realigned and splinted for 3-6 weeks. Figure on at least a month, assuming team caution (I reckon we can count on that), and then who knows how long it takes him to regain full strength and comfort with his grip. I have absolutely no idea how long it would take if they had to perform surgery to repair a badly torn ligament, but I expect it would be a lot longer, and his recovery would be much more arduous.
What will it mean for the team?
To fill Zoom’s roster spot, the Tigers have called up Aquilino Lopez. The best thing about Aquilino Lopez is that his name is Aquilino. He currently has an ERA of 5.68, which is loads better than Jose Mesa’s gleaming 20.25 ERA. There is no best thing about Jose Mesa.
Without Zoom, the setup role will presumably fall mostly to Fernando Rodney. Fernando has screwed his head back on of late, but that does not mean the wheels (to switch metaphors) won’t come screaming off at any moment. He wounded us early, and I am not quick to forget it. Nor, I imagine, is he, and his mental gidgetness is part of why I don’t trust him much farther than I could throw him. (Probably not very far; I have a weak girly throwing arm, the only thing I hold in common with Johnny Damon.)
Grilli, Aquilino Lopez, Mesa, and Fernando are now our right-handers. Seay and Wilfredo are our lefties. Jonesy is the closer. Expect everyone minus Jonesy to get a lot more work, because no Zoom means no overpowering pitching that can shut down lineups regardless of hitting handedness, which means that Leyland is going to want to start playing lefty/righty matchups, something most Major League managers tend to do way too much in my opinion, but eeeeeeeeeeh, what do I know, I blog.
Billfer calls this “playing the platoon advantages”; I call it “chances for everyone to get tired arms and aaahhhh the sky is falling aaahhhhhh”. Consider it an instructive look at why it pays to read multiple blogs for multiple outlooks.
So not only does this upset the natural order of the bullpen (a most delicate ecosystem!), it also probably means more work, and potential overwork, for everyone left. Whee.
Who the heck manages to injure themselves while warming up in the bullpen?
The same guy who manages to injure himself playing Guitar Hero?
So far as I can tell, Zoom didn’t hurt himself by falling on his hand, or hitting it on anything. He hurt it SIMPLY BY THROWING A FASTBALL. A warmup fastball. We know Zoom tends to grip the ball quite hard, perhaps overly hard– this was one of his attempts at justifying the Guitar Hero injury. But hard enough to DISLOCATE A FINGER? I mean… I guess if he kind of pushed the ball off with his middle finger as he released it? And he pushed it really hard? And there was some kind of wacked-out enormous torque at work, because of the force with which he throws?
Think about this. Assuming that Zoom DOES make a full recovery from this injury, do you even WANT him resuming his old mechanics? If they lead first to forearm strain and then to finger dislocation, I think it’s fair to say that they are in some rather significant way flawed. But how do you correct whatever’s wrong with his mechanics without compromising his ability to pitch?
I guess that’s a question for the trainers and the pitching coaches.
One of the keys to winning, in the long run of a whole season, is health. We’ve already lost Kenny, and Vance Wilson, and now this (and yeah, I am aware that losing a backup catcher is not on the same level of magnitude as losing an ace starting pitcher and a major component of your bullpen… but given Rabelo’s batting average these days, and taking into account the fact that Vance DIDN’T COMPLETELY SUCK last season, that small difference in hitting may have cost us a run or two, and maybe even a game or two by now). And Bondo’s battling blisters; who knows how persistent those will be or how much they’ll affect his pitching.
I mean, obviously you never know… nobody expected Zach Miner to step up like he did last season when Maroth went out. But these injuries are starting to pile up, and while we’re not looking quite as decrepit and accident-prone as the Yankees just yet, it’s not starting to look too pleasant.
Also we came from behind to win it today and Magglio remains a HOT HOT HOT item even though he’s apparently trimmed his hair a bit (why, Maggs, why!?!?!? saying it doesn’t fit under your helmet is such a cop-out), so that’s a plus, and I’m going to have to temporarily tell my personal pessimistic tendencies to go suck an eggplant.