Tigers' Fulmer finds lots of friends after stellar start

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer prepares to throw to a Los Angeles Angels batter during the second inning.

Detroit — There might be one downside to big league pitching success, particularly for a rookie.

You rediscover old friends. Tons of them. They were flooding Michael Fulmer late Wednesday night with congratulatory texts after Fulmer had pushed his startlingly strong 2016 record to 5-1 in the 3-0 Tigers put-away of the Angels at Angel Stadium.

“About 75,” Fulmer said as he talked of patiently tapping out text responses when the Tigers team charter sat on the tarmac, for extended time, ahead of takeoff late Wednesday night. “I think I got to all of ’em.”

Fulmer’s personal and public-relations tasks would be less grueling if a 23-year-old, right-handed starter had begun his big league career a bit less gloriously.

But that hasn’t been his style, at least of late. In each of his last two starts, Fulmer has pitched 7.2 innings of shutout baseball. He had a no-hitter boiling into the seventh Wednesday, which is what can happen when you have Fulmer’s fastball-slider package adorned by a change-up Fulmer concedes has been his difference-maker.

“It gives me some depth — it creates more versatility, moving up and down, from my fastball and slider,” said Fulmer, who, as usual, spent much of Thursday’s pre-game clubhouse media chat crediting Tigers catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and James McCann, each of whom he lauded for making the right pitch-call at the right moment.

Fulmer had an off-day Thursday as the Tigers got ready for an evening makeup game against the Yankees at Comerica Park. And that was just fine with a certain pitcher. He and the Tigers landed at daybreak Thursday and headed for their homes or, in Fulmer’s case, to a hotel where he for now bunks.

His wife, Kelsey, is a registered nurse in Oklahoma City, where Fulmer lives during the offseason. It means a man is going solo as he works to familiarize himself with Metro Detroit, a battle, Fulmer says, Metro Detroit thus far has won.

There hasn’t been a great deal of time otherwise to socialize or perhaps take in dinner downtown, or in Royal Oak, or Birmingham, or at Sindbad’s on Lake St. Clair, or any such locale that can make summers in southeast Michigan special.

He has played golf once, which is bothersome only in that Fulmer enjoys the game and would doubly enjoy working on a handicap that sits at about 12.

“If I could just eliminate the three-putts,” said Fulmer, sharing in many a golfer’s lament.

The game has been a bigger part of his Oklahoma offseasons in that it has been his fall-winter place of employment. At least until recently. He worked first in the cart barn at Kickingbird Golf Club, in Edmond, before moving to the golf shop, where he rang up greens fees, sold golf balls and clubs, shirts and the usual equipment and paraphernalia.

“It gets your mind off baseball,” said Fulmer, whose mind very much is locked onto his craft during the season.

The combination of focus, power pitches, and transition to a third-pitch change-up, have created in Fulmer a hot story, locally, and even nationally as Wednesday evening’s no-hitter watch began to take root.

Fulmer’s spring exploits, didn’t, as events turned out, include a no-hitter. But he had helped steer the Tigers to a shutout victory.

His friends had noticed. Fulmer’s cellphone bore the evidence.