Unflappable Fulmer pulls Tigers out of slide

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Michael Fulmer gave up two hits while striking eight and walking two in 7 2/3 innings.

Anaheim, Calif. —  The stuff can be overpowering, for sure. That’s the first thing you notice about Tigers rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer. A mid- to upper-90s fastball (four-seam and two-seam), a wipeout slider and a change-up.

That’s all the Angels saw Wednesday, as Fulmer blanked them through 7⅔ innings with eight strikeouts and was working a no-hitter for 6⅔ innings — all of which helped the Tigers salvage the finale of the three-game set here, 3-0.

But it’s the poise, the bulldog mentality, the unwavering trust in his three pitches — that’s what makes him standout from a lot of other gifted young pitchers.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Angels 0

“The last two or three starts, just watching him from the side, he really trusts his stuff,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “When a guy hits a ball hard off him, he’s coming right back after you with the same pitch again. It’s tough. Once you give up a hit or a home run, you want to shy away from contact. He just comes right at you.”

Case in point: Fulmer lost his no-hitter with two outs in the seventh. C.J. Cron, who hit a walk-off homer to beat the Tigers Tuesday night, reached out and slapped a 1-2 fastball (98 mph) into right field.

Saltalamacchia was worried the hit may have shaken the rookie.

“I went out there to see where he was,” Saltalamacchia said. “I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to try to do too much or that he wasn’t too upset.”

He might as well stayed behind the plate. Here was how Fulmer reacted to Cron’s single.

“It was a fastball up and away and he got to it,” he said. “My best pitch. So hats off to him. But it doesn’t change anything. I still need to get the next guy out and put a zero on the board. And that’s what we did. Me and Salty were on the same page all day. He was the brains behind this.”

Here’s another peek into Fulmer’s mound psyche. He walked Carlos Perez after a lengthy battle with one out in the eighth and the Tigers up 2-0. That brought the tying run to the plate. Pinch-hitting for the Angels — the legendary Albert Pujols, whom Fulmer grew up watching in Oklahoma City.

Was Fulmer awed, even a little? Hardly.

“My mindset was —– Salty said lets go fastball down and away, so that’s what I focused on,” Fulmer said. “He took it (for a strike). Salty wanted fastball away again and I said, “OK, let’s see if he sees this one,’ and he swung through it.

“Third pitch comes and he wants a slider. Just take one pitch at a time.”

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Pujols, in his first pinch-hit at-bat since joining the Angels, was out in three pitches — 95, 96 and 88 on the slider.

“Obviously, I watched him for years,” Fulmer said. “He’s a great player and it’s an honor to face guys like that. But in the end, I just trusted Salty and we got him out.”

That particular moment of triumph ended abruptly when Gregorio Petit followed with a ground-rule double — putting runners on second and third.

At that point, with Fulmer at 102 pitches, manager Brad Ausmus called on closer Francisco Rodriguez to commence a rare four-out save. It was Rodriguez’s first appearance back at Angel Stadium since he left after the 2008 season, and he calmly got Johnny Giavotella to ground out to Nick Castellanos at third to end the inning.

Rodriguez finished his 15th straight save, and Fulmer’s fifth win, with a scoreless ninth.

“That’s what Frankie does,” Fulmer said. “It’s a great team win, and that’s always the goal. Whether I go one inning or nine innings, all I care about is winning the game.”

The win snapped a four-game losing streak and the Tigers were able to bookend this otherwise gloomy six-game trip with a pair of wins.

Since giving up five runs in 4⅓ innings in Baltimore on May 15, Fulmer has been oppressively good. In his last three starts – against the Rays, A’s and Angels – he allowed one run and nine hits in 22⅓ innings, with 22 strikeouts, four walks.

“He was throwing 97 mph,” Saltalamacchia said. “With the four-seam cutting and the two-seamer running like crazy, and he was able to pound the zone with all three pitches. Anytime you’ve got that going for you, it’s going to be a fun night.”

Fulmer is just the second pitcher in Tigers’ history to produce consecutive games of seven-plus scoreless innings with three or fewer hits. Mickey Lolich was the other.

Detroit Tigers' Jose Iglesias celebrates after scoring past Los Angeles Angels catcher Carlos Perez on a single by Ian Kinsler during the fifth inning.

Ausmus was asked if Fulmer reminded him of any other young pitcher he’s seen or caught in his career. Reluctantly, Ausmus offered this comparison.

“I don’t want to put this kind of heat on Fulmer because he’s not there yet,” Ausmus said. “But I kind of think of Roy Oswalt the first year he was in the big leagues. Just with his mentality. He’s not intimidated by who’s stepping into the batter’s box. The environment doesn’t seem to bother him.”

Fulmer has burrowed himself securely into the Tigers’ rotation. In fact, with Anibal Sanchez moved to the bullpen, he’s become the club’s No. 3 starter after Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann.

But the Oswalt comp nearly made him blush — nearly.

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“He was an idol of mine,” Fulmer said. “But it can’t change what I’m doing.”

As for the offense, the Tigers pounded out 10 hits off Trenton native and Eastern Michigan product Matt Shoemaker, but only produced two runs in seven innings.

Jose Iglesias stroked a one-out double in the fifth and scored on a single by Ian Kinsler.

In the sixth, Victor Martinez led off with a double. And it took three more singles to score him. Saltalamacchia’s base hit did it, but the Tigers left the bases loaded when Iglesias hit into an inning-ending double play.

Shoemaker set an Angels club record in the game, striking out 31 batters since he last issued a walk. He broke the mark held by another Michigan native — Frank Tanana.

The Angels almost literally gave the Tigers a tack-on run in the ninth. After three consecutive walks loaded the bases, shortstop Petit booted what may have been an inning-ending double play ball hit by J.D. Martinez.

The Tigers again left the bases loaded, as Jose Alvarez struck out Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

The win was the first by the Tigers in Anaheim since 2014 and their second in the last 17.

Twitter: @cmccosky