Michael Fulmer did not give up a run in his first 10 outings this season.
The: Detroit: Tigers setup man logged 10⅓ innings, striking out eight batters and walking two.
But still, something did not feel right – his slider did not have the depth or the bite it was supposed to have. His velocity was down. So he and pitching coach Chris Fetter started to search for answers.
The immediate results weren’t ideal in his next four outings. The 29-year-old right-hander picked up two losses, giving up six earned runs in four innings, allowing five hits, six walks (including one in each game) with three strikeouts.
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“The only hiccup this season was those two weeks when I was trying new things to try and figure out how to get back to where I needed to be,” Fulmer said Sunday morning. “Once I stopped trying to figure everything out, the results started getting better.
“It’s one of those things, did I have to change a lot from the beginning of the year? Probably not. But I knew my stuff wasn’t there or was still lacking a bit, particularly the slider … so that started trying to change everything else, that’s when you start to change velo and that’s when the walks came up. “
Fulmer said it was not a matter of results, instead he was moving proactively when he saw the movement was not where it should be.
The part that bothered him most during his rough stretch – other than not helping his team win – was the walks he allowed.
“If I’m not walking guys, I’m right where I need to be,” he said. “But as soon as I’m searching and all this stuff, that’s when the results get bad.”
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Fulmer said the fix was a combination of not pressing, while also identifying a few changes he needed to make. It’s a sign of maturity. Fulmer said when he got to the Tigers, he was hesitant to look too much into the new wave of analytics going around baseball.
Instead, he let the results do the talking for him.
But as his career has progressed, his role has changed and the league has transformed – coupled with the addition of one of the more forward-thinking pitching coaches in Fetter – he has seen the benefits of marrying the old school with the new school.
“I’ll be honest, the whole analytics stuff when we first brought it on I wasn’t a big fan of it,” he said. “But the more Fetter came on last year and immediately started talking to me about how this spin stuff and this analytics stuff works, I’m kind of bought into it.
“We noticed last year the slider was spinning in a direction a lot different than it was this year … as soon as we figured that out through three or four bullpens, slowly getting back it transitioned to the game naturally.”
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Fulmer hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past seven outings, going 6⅔ innings, allowing one hit, two walks and striking out 10.
Fulmer might be the most critical piece to a bullpen that ranks in the top two in MLBin WHIP, ERA and holds.
He talked Sunday about the importance of a high slider, something that used to be seen as a mistake pitch. If it still has the same movement at the top of the zone that it does at the bottom, it will miss the barrel of the bat.
If it does not get the bite, he says it will spin above the zone, as opposed to when those low and away sliders hang up and then they are “middle-middle”.
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Wearing his “failed starter” T-shirt that Andrew Chafin got the bullpen, “because it’s fricking hilarious” Chafin said, Fulmer said he could not be happier with where he is in his career.
From Rookie of the Year, to struggling starter who needed Tommy John surgery, to shutdown reliever. It’s not the path he envisioned, but one he’s glad he’s on.
“I wear this proudly,” he said of his shirt. “I’m very happy with everything now … how can I be upset with it? I love the position I’m in, I love the role I’m in, I love all these guys in the bullpen, it’s a family within a family.
“(The shirt) is obviously a joke … but shoot if I’d kept starting in 2020-21, who knows where I’d be right now? But I think it’s been a successful transition to the bullpen in my eyes, that’s all that matters and I’m going to continue to play for as long as I can, and my chances are better right now out of the bullpen. “
Tigers manager AJ Hinch said left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez will not be starting for the team for a little while longer.
“It will be a day or two before I have an update on Eduardo, but he’s not scheduled to start here or in the minors yet, he’s away from our team at this point,” Hinch said.
Asked if it was a personal issue, Hinch said, “yes, but I’ll update you in a day or two.”
Rodriguez dominated his rehab start with Triple-A Toledo on Thursday, and has been on the injured list since May 22, retroactive to May 19, with a left ribcage sprain.
Tigers third-baseman Jeimer Candelario, on the injured list since Monday with a left shoulder subluxation, was fielding ground balls before Sunday’s game, but must build strength and remains a ways away from his return. When he does come back, it will begin in Toledo.
“He’s not going to play this home stand from what I understand,” Hinch said. “We’re going to need to test him out in games with his swing, especially right-handed.
Right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero is dealing with a swollen Achilles which leaves him unable to pitch probably for “10-14 days”. Hinch called it a setback that happened his last day in Lakeland, Florida.
Cisnero was running and came up sore the next day, tried to pitch through it in Toledo but “did not pitch that well, did not have his best stuff” according to Hinch and he then reported the Achilles issue.
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers’ Michael Fulmer wears’ failed starter ‘T-shirt proudly: