Zumaya's arm injury overshadows Tigers' move into first in Central

MINNEAPOLIS -- Joel Zumaya sat solemnly at his space in Detroit's clubhouse, glancing at his glove before setting it on the shelf inside his cubicle.

The Tigers hope their hard-throwing reliever will be able to pick it up again. Back in fearsome form following three straight injury-wrecked seasons, Zumaya is facing what likely will be his biggest challenge yet with a serious injury to his right elbow.

Zumaya's injury marred Detroit's move into first place, after the Tigers used four first-inning runs off Francisco Liriano to beat the Minnesota Twins 7-5 on Monday night.

"It breaks your heart," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's really worked his tail off to get back."

Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera hit two-run doubles in the first off Liriano, who surrendered a season-high six runs in six-plus innings while the Tigers passed the Twins for a half-game lead in the AL Central.

That took the background to Zumaya's health, though, when the right-hander squirmed and winced around on the mound in obvious pain after throwing a pitch that Delmon Young fouled off with one out in the eighth inning.

"It's hard to see," said catcher Gerald Laird, whose homer in the top of the inning gave the Tigers an insurance run. "It was just like a little pop when he let it go."

Zumaya, who missed large chunks of the last two seasons because of shoulder problems, was in so much discomfort his right thumb was shaking while the trainer checked him out. Wearing a sling on his arm, Zumaya declined to comment through a team spokesman.

Laird vowed his teammate would be back and told him as much in a postgame conversation.

"In seven, eight months you'll be throwing again," Laird said to Zumaya.

For now, though, the Tigers will most likely be without their intimidating setup man for the last half of the season. Leyland declined to speculate about the prognosis or the diagnosis, insisting on waiting until an MRI on Zumaya's elbow on Tuesday.

"I don't think it's good," Leyland said.

The room was library-quiet afterward.

"When you see a guy go out with that kind of pain, it's kind of a sinking feeling in your stomach," Boesch said.

Jose Valverde came in for Zumaya and got five straight outs for his 18th straight save, making a winner of Jeremy Bonderman (4-5) and moving the Tigers into first place for the first time since May 20. They were tied then with the sputtering Twins, who have led the division this season for all but a handful of days.

"It'll come. It's only June," Young said. "There's three months."

Minnesota fell to 10-15 in June, despite a home run and an RBI triple -- his first three-base hit in more than six years -- by Jim Thome. The Twins hit into three double plays and lead the majors with 88.

Liriano (6-6) lost his third straight start, the latest Twins starter to fail to stop the slide. Other than Carl Pavano, their rotation is reeling. They had plenty of opportunities against Bonderman, but that bedeviling double-play ball kept getting in the way.

Jason Kubel bounced into two of them. Thome tried his best to pick him up, blistering a ball off the right-field wall that ricocheted hard to the right on Boesch. It rolled far enough to let Thome -- balky back and all -- rumble all the way to third with a sliding triple while Bonderman watched in astonishment.

Young drove in Thome with a single, and two innings later the home run brought the Twins within 5-4.

"I didn't have any clue what I was doing tonight," said Bonderman, who allowed four runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Liriano regrouped nicely after the nightmare in the first, but this was only the third time in 15 starts this season he allowed more than three runs. Even in the home clubhouse, however, the thoughts were mostly with Zumaya.

"He's a nice young man, and he's a great pitcher. You hope everything works out for him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Game notes
Thome's homer was the first opposite-field shot by a left-hander at Target Field. Two others went the other way for round-trippers to right. Gardenhire joked that the triple "might have taken 10 games" from Thome. ... Bonderman gave up one hit the first time through the Twins lineup but five on the second turn, a continuation of his trend this season. His batting average against the first time through is .186, .305 on the second turn. ... The Tigers will be short-handed in the bullpen Tuesday without Zumaya and with Leyland's vow to rest Valverde, who struck out three and threw 21 pitches. ... Twins starters are 2-8 with a 7.43 ERA in the last 10 games including two dominant victories by Pavano. "They're all pressing too much," pitching coach Rick Anderson said.