DETROIT (AP) -- The Tigers' flame-thrower is back and, after a few false starts, seems to be heating up.
For at least one pitch, the radar gun read 99 mph during Joel Zumaya's 1 2-3 inning stint in Monday's win over the Minnesota Twins.
It's a step in the right direction for the reliever who became one of the most popular athletes in Michigan by throwing triple-digit pitches.
"I'm just coming back and trying to do a little bit more than I'm supposed to," Zumaya said.
Zumaya returned from the disabled list June 20. In his third appearance, he gave up three walks, a hit and a run.
"It seems like I didn't even go through spring training," he said.
But his recent performances signal improvement. Zumaya had saved one game in five appearances entering Thursday night's game in Seattle. Since his disappointing game against St. Louis on June 25, Zumaya has not given up any runs or walks.
"Zumaya's working his way back," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Obviously, he hasn't been out there for quite a while. He needs some work."
Zumaya said he hurt his shoulder moving boxes when wildfires threatened his home in Chula Vista, Calif., during the offseason. It wasn't the first unusual ailment for the 23-year-old with the flame-tatooed arms. He ruptured the tendon in his right middle finger in May last year and was sidelined until August.
"I think someone above is giving me one more chance, but for me to just watch it next time," Zumaya said of his surgery and recovery.
Zumaya, along with fellow setup man Fernando Rodney, played a major part in Detroit's run-up to the 2006 World Series. Their injury-shortened seasons in 2007 led to the Tigers missing the playoffs.
Rodney also started slow when he came off the disabled list June 16. The 31-year-old's ERA ballooned to 135.00 after two awful appearances. But in his next 4 2-3 innings, he had no runs, one walk and three strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 9.00 entering Thursday night's game.
"I feel better," Rodney said. "My arm is stronger."
The comeback of the two relief pitchers has coincided with the Tigers' recent turnaround. The team started 0-7, and reached a low-point June 6 with a loss to Cleveland that dropped them to 24-36.
But since then, they have won 18 of 24 games and were at the .500 mark before Thursday's game against Seattle.
Closer Todd Jones, who rested on Monday while Zumaya finished the game, said it's good to have both pitchers back.
"With Joel's case, he's a difference maker, there's no question about it," Jones said. "We're definitely a better team when he's here."
Leyland said expectations were high when the two came back, but that he knew it would take the relievers some time to feel comfortable on the mound.
"I'm not going to rush and get greedy and expect everything to be hunky dory just when they get back because it's not going to be like that," Leyland said. "I'm going to take it step by step. That's the best way to do it."
Still, Leyland said he's happy to have them on the team again.
"I like writing them on the card every night, I'll tell you that," he said.