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Detroit Tigers’ Michael Fulmer erratic, but encouraged by pitch mix

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Lakeland, Florida – This was captured towards the end of his post-game zoom interview.

Michael Fulmer went straight to the weight room after starting a somewhat erratic and encouraging start against the Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium on Tuesday. He had to let off some steam first.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “I’m a different pitcher than I was a few years ago. You can’t deny that. “

This recording could be the first real step towards a positive recovery for Fulmer, who is in his first full season after major knee surgery (2018) and surgery on Tommy John (2019). He’s clearly not the power pitcher he was in his 2016 Rookie of the Year season. However, on his previous start in Dunedin on March 11, he was still trying to throw increased fastballs (at 92-93 mph) from Blue’s Jay Hitter.

Fulmer was a very different kind of pitcher against the Yankees. He threw 17 changes, 14 sliders, 12 four-seam fastballs (averaging 92 mph), 11 sinkers (93), and nine curveballs. He didn’t throw a curveball until his 10th strike against Toronto. He threw one in his second place Tuesday.

“I’m not just saying this, I feel like I’m getting closer and closer,” he said. “I try different things every time I start to see what is sticking and what is not … My body feels great. I’m just trying to learn the (pitch) sequencing, the entrances and exits, the highs and lows, the different quadrants of the strike zone that I don’t usually work on.

“I’m trying to get a better mix with the curveball and the switch. Today was a good day and I am encouraged to move on. “

The game results are still not there. He gave up very little hard contact but missed very few bats (four swings and misses). He allowed three runs on four singles with three walks and two batsmen. He didn’t come out in the third inning and had the bases loaded.

“He was unpredictable as the excursion continued,” said manager AJ Hinch. “I know he’s very tough on himself because of the expectations he has of himself. Even though he’d just been off a couple’s plate and just stole (Derek) Dietrich’s elbow (his last blow), it felt like it was rolling downhill on him. “

Lefty Derek Holland, however, saved the inning. Beat out left-handed Mike Tauchman and Tyler Wade and get left-handed Rob Brantly to get out.

However, 63 pitches and only 32 strikes in two innings plus five batters won’t make it.

“Of course I have to be better,” said Fulmer. “But today was encouraging. When I got out of the game, I was frustrated when everyone came out. But I came in and took an elevator to let some of that frustration out. And I just think that today was a lot better. The things that I can control were much better.

“Instead of trying to toss the seats in the zone and leaving them in the center, I had better commanded the ball. My mistakes were better. I threw the guys off balance … encouraging to myself but the results weren’t there and I need to be better with the results. “

He’ll have at least two more starts this spring, but he’s becoming an issue for Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter as they try to determine which five or six starters will bring them north in two weeks. It’s likely that the Tigers will start the season with five starters and add the sixth later in April as the schedule tightens.

Fulmer only has five years of service, which would give him the opportunity not to accept a downgrade to Triple-A. The Tigers could elect him to Triple-A Toledo within the first two weeks of the season without his permission. But that doesn’t seem like the direction they want to go.

Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull are true castles. Jose Urena signed a $ 3.25 million one-year deal this off-season and is expected to start the rotation as well. Tarik Skubal, who will start in Clearwater on Wednesday, was arguably the best Tiger starter in the camp. That leaves Fulmer in a fight with Casey Mize and Julio Tehran, who is in the camp as a non-cadre invitee.

“To be honest, I feel like I’m competing for a job,” said Fulmer. “We have so much depth in the start pitching department. And that’s how I want it to be. I want to be able to earn a place. Nothing is given. That’s what AJ said on his first day here, which is great. Good competition is good for the team.

“But I feel encouraged. He knows there have been three starts. Every time has tried something new. What works will stay and what doesn’t is not. I have a few more starts to bring it all together. ”

Another option is for the Tigers to use Fulmer as a bulk reliever for the first few weeks while he continues to build up. If the results warrant it, he could move on to the sixth starter. But that is a decision for a later date.

“We’ll talk about it,” said Hinch. “We’ll look at everything. But I’ll turn to execution almost 98.99 percent of the time when we talk about pitching. Whether you’re just missing or everywhere, it puts you in bad leverage situations.

“In the end, it wasn’t a good day for him.”

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Twitter: @cmccosky

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Dusty Kennedy