Lakeland, Fla. – While the Tigers were in the process of being no-hit in a spring training game for the fourth time in their history, Michael Fulmer was getting caught up in the NCAA drama in Indianapolis.
With three seconds left, his beloved Oklahoma State basketball team was losing by two points to Michigan and a Wolverine was on the free throw line.
“Watch, he’s going to miss one of these and we’re going to hit a three at the buzzer,” said the Tigers right-hander, after he threw 59 pitches against the Yankees on Friday.
He was half right. Oklahoma State did drain a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was rendered meaningless by the two made free throws by D.J. Wilson.
“Dang it,” Fulmer said.
The half-right finish was fitting because Fulmer’s outing was also half-good in the Tigers’ 3-0 exhibition loss to the Yankees, in front of a packed house at Publix Field (9,704).
He struggled to find a feel for the ball in the first inning – two walks, 29 pitches – and he gave up three two-strike doubles in the fourth.
In between, he was perfect, retiring six hitters in 16 pitches, including a four-pitch second.
“I went from throwing not enough strikes to too many strikes, apparently,” Fulmer said. “I don’t know what it was.”
It was a relatively chilly and windy day and he said the ball felt dry in his hand in the first inning.
“I sat in the dugout after the inning and stuck my hand on the water cooler,” Fulmer said. “Just to moisten up my hand a little.”
Catcher Alex Avila also complained that the balls seemed dry.
“We grabbed a couple out of the bag and they were a little cue ball-ish,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
The problem was rectified and Fulmer cruised through the second and third. In the fourth inning, though, he gave up a double to Matt Holliday on an 0-2 pitch, a double to Chase Headley on a 1-2 pitch and another to Rob Refsnyder on an 0-2 pitch.
“All three I was ahead in the count and all three I thought I made a decent pitch,” he said. “It’s funny, the first inning I get outs with missed spots and in the fourth I give up doubles on spots I feel like I hit.”
Big picture, he took another step toward regular-season readiness. Fulmer was happy to get into the fourth inning, especially after the extended first, and build his pitch count to 59.
“My biggest thing is getting up (and down between innings) and obviously lowering my pitch count,” Fulmer said. “Throwing 30 pitches in an inning isn’t going to help. But, I got into the fourth. Next time I hope to go five or six innings.”
About that not-so ignominious spring no-no.
“It’s not something you really worry about,” Ausmus said. “It’s not something you really remember.”
Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka might. Facing the Tigers for the third time this spring, he blanked them for 4.1 innings. The only blemish was two walks. He struck out six.
All told, he’s pitched 10.1 scoreless and hitless innings against the Tigers this spring.
“He’s either been really good against us or we’ve been really bad against him, or some combination,” Ausmus said. “He looked really good today. It looked like his ball had a lot of movement.”
Chasen Shreve (two-thirds of an inning) and left-hander Jordan Montgomery (four innings) finished it off.
“There’s pride involved,” Ausmus said. “You don’t want to get no-hit, whether it’s spring training, regular season or whiffle ball in the back yard.”
Justin Upton probably hit the hardest ball of the day, a liner right to the Yankees third baseman Ruben Tejada. A couple of bloopers were run down and caught in shallow center field.
It was the first time the Tigers were no-hit in a spring game since 2009 when the Marlins, with Ricky Nolasco, Dan Meyer and Leo Nunez did the trick.
The Tigers were also no-hit in the springs of 1960 (Pirates – Bennie Daniels and Jim Umbrecht) and 1973 (Royals – Steve Busby and Doug Bird).
Around the horn
… Blaine Hardy (1.1 innings), Drew VerHagen (1.0), Ruben Alaniz (1.0) and Edward Nunez (1.0) pitched scoreless innings for the Tigers on Friday.
… Center Fielder Tyler Collins came out of the game earlier than usual, replaced in the after he got two at-bats after three innings. He was replaced by Andrew Romine. Asked if Collins was taken out for any health reasons, Ausmus said, “No.”
… The Tigers have a split-squad day Saturday. Justin Verlander will start in Lakeland against the Marlins and Mike Pelfrey will start against the Braves in Orlando.