'I know I'm ready': Fulmer states case for Tigers roster spot after 22-month absence
Detroit — You take it for what it is. It’s live batting practice, at 10:30 on a Saturday morning with the temperature already climbing toward 90 degrees.
And he wasn’t necessarily facing a collection of big-league All-Stars — Isaac Paredes, Brady Policelli, Spencer Torkelson, Frank Schwindel, Riley Greene and Sergio Alcantara.
But, dang, that had to feel so good to Michael Fulmer — three innings, 45 pitches, lots of swings and misses and ugly hacks, no hard-hit balls.
“That’s probably the most polished I’ve felt out of all my rehab so far,” said Fulmer, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since September of 2018. “I thought all four of my pitches were working.
“I’ve been feeling better and better the last few weeks and today it finally paid off.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire watched every pitch from center field. Pitching coach Rick Anderson stood over by the third-base coach’s box and chatted with Fulmer between innings. There was no radar gun, but there were tardy swings and pitches getting in on hitters’ hands, indications that his pitches had life.
He got Torkelson twice, on a one-pitch ground ball to shortstop and then on a three-pitch strikeout. He got Greene to take a half-swing on a breaking ball and roll it to first base. He was placing his slider and change-up mostly where he wanted it and he was moving his fastball in and out, up and down.
“It was 10:30 in the morning and I was still able to get the ball over the plate,” Fulmer said with a wry smile. “I was able to work all sides of the plate with all my pitches and everything felt great. I think I can help this team win right now.
“I know I’m ready.”
Gardenhire wants to believe that. He needs to believe that, especially with two starters — Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann — on the injured list. Still, it’s been 22 months since he last faced a big-league lineup.
Normally, a pitcher coming off a long layoff would get a handful of minor-league rehab starts. That wasn’t an option for Fulmer. And being stretched at best to 60 pitches with potentially 10 days before he would make a regular-season start isn’t optimal.
“I told them I thought I was ready, but it’s their call,” Fulmer said. “It’s up to them if they see me as being ready. I can tell them that I feel good, but my pitching will talk for me. As long as they are happy and feel I’m ready, then I know I will be ready.”
Fulmer looked predictably rusty in is only intrasquad start last Monday. He gave up two walks, four hits and three runs to the first seven hitters he faced. After that, though, he put down six of seven with three strikeouts. He threw 57 pitches that day.
Everything looked smoother Saturday.
“We’re talking about live BP and intrasquad games versus real games against actual opponents,” he said. “I know my adrenaline will be up more once the season starts. We’ll just see how things go from there. But as of right now, I feel I’ve done as much as I can and the best that I can without any minor league rehab starts.”
If the Tigers keep Fulmer on a five-day routine, he would pitch either a simulated game or live batting practice in Cincinnati on the off-day Thursday, then be ready to start against the Royals at Comerica Park on July 28.
But that’s a best-case scenario. It’s possible that Fulmer’s first couple of starts will be as an opener, or as the front end of a piggyback start.
“We’re going to come up with a plan, believe me,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve had conversations trying to figure out our best route. We’ll come with lots of (contingency) plans and work them through.”
Just to be back in the conversation, though, back on the active roster, is reward enough for Fulmer.
“I miss baseball,” he said. “It feels good to just be back in the dugout and around the guys again and being able to pitch off a big-league game mound again…Right now I am just trying to be another starting pitcher and work on my routine.”