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Updated: February 26th, 2012 12:02pm
'Distraught' Joel Zumaya analyzing future after MRI reveals torn UCL

'Distraught' Joel Zumaya analyzing future after MRI reveals torn UCL

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's almost as if Minnesota Twins right-hander Joel Zumaya knew the worst-case scenario was a sure thing.

Prior to reporters gathering in the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium early on Sunday morning, Zumaya had already cleaned out most of the personal belongings in his locker -- before undergoing a scheduled MRI.

As it turns out, maybe he knew all along.

The MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in Zumaya's right elbow, likely ending his season after just 13 live-session pitches -- and possibly ending his injury-plagued career.

"It's unfortunate," said general manager Terry Ryan in his Fort Myers office on Sunday. "We took a risk, and it didn't work."

Zumaya ended his throwing session early on Saturday after only five minutes. Facing Drew Butera, Zumaya threw a breaking pitch, then walked off the mound flexing his right hand. He motioned for head athletic trainer Rick McWane, who escorted the right-hander off the mound. At the time, Zumaya nodded to concerned teammates who asked if he was OK.

Zumaya's $850,000 major league contract guaranteed only $400,000. He was to receive the whole salary if he broke camp on the 25-man roster, with the opportunity to earn another million through incentives.

Ryan spoke with Zumaya over the phone on Sunday, and he classified the 27-year-old's demeanor as "distraught."

Most players who tear UCL ligaments must decide between Tommy John surgery or rehab -- with most choosing the former. After five major arm surgeries in five years -- but never Tommy John surgery -- Zumaya's decision looms larger.

"I think it's more whether or not he wants to continue the battle," Ryan said.

"He's out for the season; there's no doubt about that. It's just going to be a preference on what he wants to do. Once he settles in and talks to his family and all that stuff that comes with a decision."

Ryan said Zumaya will come back to Hammond Stadium in the next day or two and evaluate his options.

"We've got areas that I'm certainly protected by, he's got areas where he's protected. We've got a guarantee on the contract for $400,000, he's on the major league roster. If his career has come to a halt, that's one decision we have to make. If he decides to have Tommy John, that's another approach. I'll be interested to see what exactly what he wants to do."

When asked if he regretted the decision to sign Zumaya, Ryan said, "No I don't. Sometimes you have to take chances. It seemed like a worthwhile chance."

"Six, seven days into camp isn't exactly the scenario you want to look at. Let's say it happened three or four weeks later. That wouldn't be good either. If it happens, period, it isn't good. But I'll take the chance on occasion. Any general manager who has been in this chair for any length of time takes a chance on something, And if you don't take chances, you're probably in the wrong business.

"I'm much more conservative that a lot of general managers, I think that's safe to say. But I thought this was worth a chance after we did the MRIs and had our people look at him down in Houston. It's ironic he tore this ligament because that was one of the areas that he was healthy at."

Ryan added, "I'll take full responsibility for the decision. It just didn't work. It's as simple as that."

The Twins are likely to stay in-house for finding Zumaya's replacement in the seventh- and eighth-inning role he was penciled in for behind Matt Capps and Glen Perkins. The problem is, looking at the 32 remaining pitchers in camp, not many -- if any, besides Capps and Perkins -- profile as late-inning, high-leverage guys.

"If you're talking about trades, now that's a different story," Ryan said. "You always have to keep that opportunity open as you're going through spring, see how things shake out a little bit. But I'm not sure who could possibly be out there that you'd be thinking about.

"I've got a sincere interest to see exactly what we've got in this camp before we move forward for sure. We haven't even played a game. Let's see who wants to take this opportunity to do something with it."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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