Fulmer’s intensity on full display in Tigers’ loss

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Michael Fulmer fires at the Pirates in the fourth inning Tuesday.

Lakeland, Fla. – So, Michael Fulmer, when did the adrenaline start pumping?

“Kind of when I woke up this morning,” he said.

Fulmer pitched scoreless fourth and fifth innings Tuesday in the Tigers’ 4-2 loss to the Pirates in the Grapefruit League opener. It was his first big league spring appearance, and it was eventful.

“Every time I take to the mound, I am always amped up,” he said. “No matter who we are playing or where. My mentality, outside the lines I am a nice, respectful guy. But between the lines it’s game on.”

Josh Harrison got a taste of that. Fulmer threw one under his chin in the fifth inning and showed no remorse as he got the ball back from catcher James McCann.

“I’m not being disrespectful to the other team or anything like that,” Fulmer said. “But my job is to get batters out and I am going to do whatever it takes to do that.”

McCann talked to Fulmer after the game and the topic was his intensity.

BOX SCORE: Pirates 4, Tigers 2

“You want to call it max effort, you want to call it intensity, you can call it what you want – it’s something that when it’s harnessed, it’s a special thing,” McCann said. “His arm, the velocity he throws with, that’s no secret. If he can harness that intensity for a good purpose, it can be special.”

Fulmer gave up a two-out single to former Tiger Matt Joyce in the fourth, but he struck out Michael Morse on four straight fastballs – 92, 92, 94 and 96 mph – to start the inning. And he threw three nasty, hard sliders in a row to strike out Willy Garcia to end the inning.

“Mac did a great job,” Fulmer said. “I told him, ‘Just call your game; I am looking to learn from you.' Getting caught by a big league guy like that is just a blessing.”

Fulmer told McCann he had never thrown four fastballs in a row before, let alone three straight sliders. McCann told him to get used to it.

“I want to make the guy prove he can hit it,” McCann said. “If you throw two fastballs by a guy, there is no reason to throw him a slider. And same with the slider – there’s no reason you have to show him another pitch. Make him prove he’s going to adjust before you feed him something else.”

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Fulmer’s intensity almost got the best of him in the fifth inning.

“I needed to slow the game down,” Fulmer said. “When a guy got to second base, I started to speed everything up, was too quick to the plate. But I made an adjustment and got out of the inning unscathed.”

With runners at second and third and two outs, centerfielder Wynton Bernard made a diving catch on a shallow pop-up by Jason Rogers. Miguel Cabrera made a sliding play at first to steal a hit in the fourth inning, as well.

“I had a blast,” Fulmer said. “And to get a few web gems behind me, you can’t argue with that.”

Fulmer’s future is as a starting pitcher, but he has a chance to make the Tigers as a reliever. And he’s taking full aim.

“It was different, not something I am used to,” he said of coming out of the bullpen. “I talked to Rich (Dubee, pitching coach) about any tips or tricks and he said just treat it like a starter.”

So, as lefty Matt Boyd took to the mound to start the game, Fulmer went to the back fields and went through his normal pre-start routine. But he knows he’s not going to be able to do that in the regular season.

“I need to be able to make the transition if I have to and I need all the practice I can get,” he said. “The more I come out of the pen, the more settled I will be.”

He did have a little difficulty with the signs, though. Twice he thought there was a pickoff called at second base. He spun twice and neither time was second baseman Mike Aviles at the bag.

“It’s spring training for a reason,” he said, sheepishly. “We all make mistakes. Part of that was on me. A lot of it was on me, actually.”

Boyd pitched well in his two innings, as well. He gave up a run, on a long home run by Francisco Cervelli, and three hits.

“It was good for the first time facing hitters,” said Boyd, who is in the fight for the fifth spot in the rotation. “The three pitches I gave up hits on I was trying to go inside and missed over the middle.”

Victor Martinez rounds the bases on his two-run home run in the sixth inning Tuesday.

Cervelli homered off Boyd’s revamped slider, but the pitch was effective. He struck out Joyce with it and used it to set up a nasty two-seamer to strike out Morse.

“I need to work on getting the ball in a bit,” Boyd said. “But today was good. You are competing but you are also working to grow in the season.”

Former Tiger Kyle Lobstein pitched two scoreless innings for the Pirates. Another former Tiger, Neftali Feliz, also pitched a scoreless inning.

Victor Martinez, batting left-handed, hit a two-run home run over the fence in right.

“I was talking to Wally (Joyner) about this; he looks noticeably stronger,” manager Brad Ausmus said about Martinez. “And I am not just talking about hitting. But just moving around, taking ground balls, getting into the batter’s box, walking up to the batter’s box – he looks stronger.”

The Pirates broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh with two runs off non-roster invitee Logan Kensing.

Twitter @cmccosky