Tigers' Fulmer wins debut: 'I'm on top of the world'
Minneapolis — He’s officially a Detroit Tiger now.
Rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer did not have the game ball from his first major league victory — which came in his debut Friday, a 9-2 romp over the Twins. But he got the beer shower.
And for players in this organization, that’s the time-honored and significant coronation.
“It was exactly what I dreamt of,” said Fulmer, who gave up seven hits and two runs in five innings. “It was a perfect scenario.”
The Tigers’ offense belted out 18 hits and took a lot of the drama out of the night. They hung three runs on Twins starter Phil Hughes in the top of the first, then Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos all homered to secure Fulmer’s first big-league win.
“You can’t argue with a three-run head start before you even take the mound,” Fulmer said.
The Tigers, who have won three straight and four of five, have scored 32 runs in those four wins.
“We’ve been swinging the bats well,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We’re scoring runs, but we’re having some really good at-bats, too — drawing walks and those kinds of things.”
Martinez, who is swinging with authority from the left side of the plate reminiscent of 2014, had four hits and two RBIs. Castellanos had three hits and three RBIs. Both homered off former Tiger Casey Fien in a three-run eighth inning.
Castellanos’ homer was into the batter’s eye in dead centerfield, an estimated 419 feet.
Justin Upton contributed three singles.
“He looked good in batting practice and he looked good at the plate in the game,” Ausmus said. “I hope we’re getting him back on track and are starting to hit on all cylinders.”
The bullpen finished it off — in style. Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, Drew VerHagen and Buck Farmer each pitched a scoreless and hitless inning.
This night, though, was about Fulmer. He had his wife, his parents, his little brother, his youth group leader, his sister-in-law and her son — he had himself a rooting section at Target Field.
He had one behind the plate, as well.
“All I wanted was for us to win it for him,” said Bobby Wilson, who got the start behind the plate and also delivered a pair of hits. “So he could bring his first strikeout to his parents and let them know, ‘Hey, thank you for putting me in this situation.’
“It was all about him today.”
Fulmer gave it right back to Wilson.
“I relied on him quite a bit and I never disagreed with him,” Fulmer said. “Obviously it worked out and we got a team W. I am pleased with the way it worked out. I am on top of the world right now.”
Ausmus talked to Fulmer about an hour before the game and found him surprisingly calm. Wilson, who last caught him at the very end of spring training, said the rookie seemed calm and in control throughout the night.
“He knows how to pitch,” Wilson said. “He’s not just a flamethrower. He knows how to command his pitches.”
Fulmer showed why he’s the club’s No. 1 prospect and why former general manager Dave Dombrowski relentlessly held on to Yoenis Cespedes until the Mets finally agreed to include Fulmer in the deal last July.
The first pitch out of his hand Friday was 97 mph. He cruised through the first three innings, allowing just three hits with three strikeouts.
“I just kept telling myself, get the first batter of the game out,” Fulmer said. “Once that happened, I kind of settled in. Castellanos came over and was like, ‘First one’s down and that’s the hardest one. Just cruise from here.’
“I just tried to keep my emotions in check. I think I did a pretty good job with that.”
As the game wore on, though, the Twins began to lock on to his fastball.
“The first time through the order I felt like I was hitting my spots pretty decently,” Fulmer said. “The second and third times through I tried to get a little too perfect and it got me falling behind guys and I gave up a couple of hits. But everything worked out. We got the win.”
His fastball ranged from 95-98 mph. In the first three innings he featured a hard breaking slider. In the fourth and fifth, he began working in a change-up.
“He definitely needs to develop a third pitch,” Ausmus said. “That is going to be important. It’s tough to be a starting pitcher at this level with just two pitches.”
The Twins got to him in the fourth inning. Fulmer struck out Miguel Sano and got Byung Ho Park to ground out.
Then he gave up singles to Oswaldo Arcia, Eduardo Nunez and Eduardo Escobar, the last driving in a run. All were on mid-90s fastballs.
Fulmer regrouped, went back to his slider and got Kurt Suzuki in a tough seven-pitch at-bat.
In the fifth inning he began mixing in a change-up. He got Danny Santana to foul out to Castellanos at third.
But he walked Brian Dozier on four pitches and, with two outs, tried to sneak a 95-mph fastball by Sano. Nope. Sano whacked it into the gap in left-center scoring Dozier.
It took an excellent play by shortstop Mike Aviles, on a hard one-hopper by Park to get Fulmer out of the inning.
All in all, though, it was a solid debut.
“I learned that as long as my command is there — fastball command is the biggest thing — and it’s nice to know if I have that I can get big-league hitters out,” Fulmer said. “That confidence is there. The first one is out of the way and I am looking forward to the next one.”
When that will be has yet to be determined. Fulmer was filling in for Shane Greene, who is on the DL with a blister on his throwing hand and will miss at least one more start. Ausmus said he will discuss the matter with pitching coach Rich Dubee and general manager Al Avila.
“We’ll see,” Ausmus said. “As of right now, I mean, Fulmer did his job so he’s going to put pressure on us. But no decision has been made.”
Wilson told Fulmer not to sweat the next start just yet.
“Just enjoy (tonight),” Wilson said. “This only happens once. Try to soak as much of it up as you can and just enjoy the moment.”