Fulmer’s numbers with Tigers don’t tell whole story

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Players learn early not to stew over statistics.

If rookie Michael Fulmer were one to do that, he’d be miserable these days. His ERA in four starts is 6.62. His WHIP is worse — 1.966. Opponents are hitting .345 against him with a .944 OPS.

So, yeah, ugly numbers. But it’s a small sample size and it doesn’t completely tell the story of his work since he was called up from Triple-A Toledo.

“It’s disappointing because I know I can do better,” said Fulmer, who will start against the Rays Saturday. “I know I have to be more effective with everything. But the stat I take out of it is, I’ve made four starts and we’ve gotten three wins.

“I’m not worried about it as long as we win as a team. I can go one inning or I can go nine, but if we have more runs than they do at the end of the game, that’s my only goal. People look at numbers way too much. My only concern is the W at the end of the day.”

A lot of the statistical damage against Fulmer came in two innings — a four-run, five-hit first inning at Cleveland where Mike Napoli got him for a three-run homer; and a three-run, three-hit first inning against the Orioles in his last start.

In both of those innings his sinker betrayed him. Opponents are hitting .546 against his sinker, which he typically throws at 91-93 mph. You expect that to correct itself, since that has been one of his primary weapons, along with a four-seam, mid-90s fastball and a slider that opponents are hitting just .148 against.

Tigers 1-6 vs. lefty starters; Smyly to offer latest test

“I try to treat my four-seamer and my sinker as two different pitches,” Fulmer said. “In Baltimore, the wind was howling from left to right and it was really pushing my sinker. I threw one to Chris Davis and I felt like I started it over the plate and it ended up on the outer third of the right-hander’s batter’s box.

“It was tough that day.”

Fulmer only lasted 41/3 innings against the Orioles, but like he has in every start, he battled. After the three-run first, he struck out four straight and retired 10 of 11 hitters. He’s fought his way through the fifth inning in three of his four starts.

He continues to work on the change-up. He’s only using it 7 percent of the time. He wants to get that up to 12 to 15 percent.

“In my bullpen (between starts) I threw about 20 extra pitches than I usually do,” he said. “And I threw 30 total change-ups, which is like five or six times more than I usually throw.”

He has confidence in the pitch, but situations have worked against him. Either the fastball and slider have been too effective to bother with a third pitch, or he’s been behind in the count. The latter is the bigger issue.

“I’ve been falling behind guys too often and it’s tough to throw a change-up when you are behind in the count,” Fulmer said. “I need to do a better job of throwing first-pitch strikes. Once that happens, I can mix a lot more. I need to pound the zone a lot more.”

Right-hander Shane Greene, for whom Fulmer has been filling in, was scheduled to make his first rehab start Friday night. He pitched for Class A West Michigan at Fort Wayne. It is expected he will make at least one other rehab start. Fulmer may only have a couple more audition starts left.

McCann battles

Manager Brad Ausmus pitched a round of early batting practice for slumping catcher James McCann before Friday’s game.

“He looked good today,” Ausmus said. “He’s been struggling, obviously, but it happens. I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve struggled at the beginning of a season like this and it can be taxing, especially for a young player. And I was a relatively young player when I went through it.

“The big picture is, he’s going to learn from this and in the long run it’s going to help him for the rest of his career. It did for me.”

McCann rolled his right ankle on April 11 and since coming back off the DL on May 3, he’s hitting .111 — 4 for 36 — with no extra base hits and 14 strikeouts.

“An injury that takes you off the field for an extended period of time can create issues, no question,” Ausmus said. “Whether it’s bad habits or rhythm issues. In that sense it can impact you. But I don’t think the ankle is having an effect now. He’s just working to get back mechanically to where he was before.

“He’ll get through it. He’s a voracious worker. So it won’t be for a lack of effort.”

Gose revival?

Anthony Gose went 4-for-9 in his first two games at Triple-A Toledo. He also walked three times.

Ausmus was asked if the plan all along was for Gose to go down, get himself back on track, get his confidence back at the plate and then get him back up to Detroit.

Steven Moya forced our hand,” Ausmus said. “He swung the bat well and we had some guys who were struggling (Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez). If they continued to struggle, maybe we could put Moya in here and there, DH, whatever. It didn’t really have anything to do with Gose.”

But things have changed. Upton and Martinez have heated up and now it’s become tough to get Moya, as well as Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles, enough work.

“It’s a problem,” Ausmus said.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are operating with one true center fielder (Cameron Maybin). If Gose gets right at Toledo, he could flip the script quickly.

“If you ask him, I’m sure it’s not the way he wanted to get himself back,” Ausmus said. “But it could work that way.”

Personal time

Ausmus flew home to San Diego for the off day Thursday. He surprised his oldest daughter at her high school senior dinner and then took a red-eye flight back to Detroit.

Rays at Tigers

First pitch: 4:10 p.m., Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

Scouting report

LHP Drew Smyly (2-4, 3.44), Rays: The former Tiger has a 10.5-2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio per nine innings and his WHIP is under 1.0 (0.987). He’s figured out how to get right-handed hitters out, too, which doesn’t bode well for the Tigers. Righties are hitting .195 against him with a .591 OPS. They are hitting .100 against his curveball and .172 against his fastball.

RHP Michael Fulmer (2-1, 6.52), Tigers: It’s been bumpy at times for Fulmer (as his 1.97 WHIP would attest) but he’s shown good composure and competitiveness working through five innings in three of his four starts. The pitch that’s let him down the most is his sinker. He’s thrown it 35 percent of the time and opponents are hitting .546 against it. His best pitch has been his slider (.148).