San Diego — Inevitably, Michael Fulmer’s outing against the Padres Friday night is going to get buried under the avalanche of angst that’s piling up around this baseball team right now. To get to it, you need to sift through a lot of rubble.
The release of Francisco Rodriguez, the seven-game losing streak, the trade chatter, the manager’s hot seat, the imponderable impotence of the offense — somewhere under all of that misery is a display of power pitching that’s worth exhumation and reexamination.
“He was really, really good,” catcher Alex Avila said. “And he can be better, too. He was throwing the hell out of the ball.”
From first pitch to last, Fulmer was bringing the heat with his two-seam fastball. He was 96-97 mph in the first inning and 97-98-99 right through to his 101st and final pitch in the seventh.
He struck out Hunter Renfroe swinging at a 99-mph heater to end the sixth — his 83rd pitch. His last pitch was a 98-mph fastball that Hector Sanchez rolled over to first base.
We are talking about a two-seam fastball — a sinker — not a four-seamer, which typically is thrown with more velocity.
“My sinker is back,” Fulmer said. “That’s the best it’s been. Stuff-wise, overall, it’s the best I’ve had all year.”
It wasn’t just the velocity that made the two-seamer special, either. His command was precise. He was able to get both sinking action on it or arm-side run, whichever the situation called for.
“Yeah, I was trying to manipulate it, whether I wanted it to sink or run,” Fulmer said. “Obviously, if I wanted it down and away to lefties, I wanted it to sink. If I wanted to go front-door to lefties, I tried to make it run back.
“I felt like it was a good pitch for me.”
He threw 61 one of them and got 12 swings and misses. He didn’t give up a hit with the pitch. In fact, in three of his last four starts, he hasn’t allowed a hit with his two-seamer.
The two-seamer at times may have been too good because it's late, sharp bite was making it tough on home plate umpire Bill Welke.
“I felt like the umpire would give me strike one and strike two on the come-back two-seamer, but he wouldn’t give me strike three,” Fulmer said. “There’s nothing you can do. I tried asking him if the ball was inside. He gave me one of these (holding thumb and forefinger together). I said, ‘Well you got great eyes then.’
“It’s part of the game and you can’t make excuses about how the umpire is calling strikes. I was trying my best to repeat a pitch and he just wasn’t very consistent tonight. Not making excuses. I just have to do better.”
Fulmer’s slider, spotty all season, showed signs of life Friday, too.
“My slider is getting close,” he said. “It’s getting real close. It was the best it’s been, too, though there were a couple of bad ones.”
Really, just one bad one. He hung a slider to No. 8 hitter Austin Hedges with a runner on second in the second inning. Hedges doubled in the only run of the game.
A competitor as fierce as Fulmer has a hard time taking silver linings out of losses, so he wasn’t accepting congratulations Friday night.
“It’s one of those stretches where nothing is going our way,” he said. “Anything borderline is going against us right now. We just have to grind through it. I still believe in these guys; everybody does.
“It’s just one of those rough stretches. We’ve got to stick with it.”
If he can keep sticking that two-seamer in unhittable zones, things will turn around soon.