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Pitching depth allows Tigers to keep Fulmer a starter

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Michael Fulmer

Clearwater, Fla. – When Michael Fulmer was listed as the starting pitcher for the game against the Astros Friday, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters not to read anything into it.

There is no need to now. General manager Al Avila removed all the mystery.

“We’re stretching Fulmer out,” Avila said before the game here Thursday.

Stretching him out means the Tigers’ immediate plan for the strong-armed rookie is to use him as a starter, most likely beginning the season in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo.

“If all of a sudden we were short (on relief pitching), he’d be the obvious guy you’d look at,” Avila said. “But right now, it’s in his best interest to be a starter.”

The long-range plan for Fulmer, who was acquired from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade last July, was always as a starter. He projects to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. But in the short term, the Tigers were thinking he could help the club now out of the bullpen.

Avila and his staff no longer feel that will be necessary.

“We feel real good about our depth right now,” Avila said.

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Ausmus said the Tigers may have stretched Fulmer out regardless of his role, simply because it would be easier for him to throw less innings once he was stretched out than to throw more innings if he wasn’t.

“You don’t want to rush a guy and stunt his development,” Ausmus said. “But the question is, would it have stunted his development? I can’t give you an answer to that right now.”

Presently there are three openings in the Tigers’ seven-man bullpen. Closer Francisco Rodriguez, set-up men Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe, plus left-hander Blaine Hardy are virtual locks to break camp with the club.

Alex Wilson would be included in that group, but he has been slowed by rotator cuff fatigue.

“We believe he is going to come back but we don’t have to rush him because we have other guys,” Avila said.

Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, Angel Nesbitt, Kyle Ryan, Bobby Parnell and Logan Kensing have all pitched well thus far this spring. In addition, Shane Greene and Buck Farmer, both being stretched out as starters, could also be used in relief if necessary.

“Another player who’s been impressive is Joe Jimenez,” Avila said. “Joe is a guy we look at and say, ‘He’s a guy who can be one of our back end bullpen guys in the near future.' That’s been really good for us.”

Avila believes Jimenez will pitch the bulk of the season at Double-A Erie, though he could start in High-A Lakeland for a couple of weeks until the weather stabilizes up north.

Bottom line, though, is the depth Avila and his staff have accumulated since the end of last season is keeping the Tigers from having to force a square peg into a round hole – using Fulmer as a reliever.

“The development process is better when you are a starter,” Avila said. “You get more chances to throw more of your pitches. It’s best for him to be a starting pitcher.”

Twitter @cmccosky