Tigers' Michael Fulmer on historic run

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
The emergence of rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer has general manager Al Avila feeling bullish about the Tigers' rotation.

New York – Ian Kinsler was asked to try to put the roll rookie Michael Fulmer is on into some kind of perspective.

“I don’t think you can,” he said. “What’s the point of putting it in perspective? It is what it is. He’s throwing the ball excellent. He’s throwing the ball great. He’s commanding the ball with a lot of confidence and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Fulmer hung another row of zeros Sunday, blanking the Yankees on two hits over six innings in the Tigers 4-1 win. It was the third straight series win for the Tigers.

“It was a really good series win,” said Kinsler, whose two-run home run in the seventh provided some cushion. “We’re definitely starting to feel better about ourselves.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Yankees 1

Fulmer has now gone four straight starts without giving up a run in at least six innings of work. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he and the Cubs Jake Arrieta are the only pitchers since 1893 when the mound was moved to 60 feet, six inches, to post four straight scoreless starts of at least six innings with three hits or less.

Fulmer is the only pitcher to do it in the same season.

“I am just trying to go out and give my team a chance to win, and put up zeros while I am at it,” said Fulmer, who seems almost oblivious to the magnitude of his accomplishments.

His scoreless innings streak, going back to his final inning against Tampa Bay on May 21, stands at 28.1, which ranks second only to John Hiller, who set the rookie scoreless innings streak at 28.2 in 1967.

Asked if it was starting to get old, he laughed, “Absolutely not. It’s always fun to win.”

He is 7-1 on the season (5-1 on the road). He’s won his last five starts and the numbers he’s put up are sensational – 34.1 innings, 1 run, 13 hits, 30 strikeouts and 10 walks.

“I think he’s becoming more confident,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “And that sometimes can be the biggest hurdle when you get to the big leagues – understanding you have the ability to consistently get outs at this level and he’s continued to do that. Obviously his stuff plays into that but it seems like he’s on the right track, for sure.”

The two hits he allowed Sunday were both leadoff doubles – by Aaron Hicks in the third and Austin Romine in the fifth. Hicks got no further than second base and Fulmer stranded Romine at third.

Fulmer was in full survivor mode in the fifth. With two outs and Romine still at second, he walked Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. The Gardner at-bat was a grinding 10-pitch fight.

That loaded the bases for Carlos Beltran, whom Fulmer had struck out twice previously. This time Fulmer got him to fly out to fight field.

“He got into a little trouble there, but then he came back with a 1-2-3 sixth,” Kinsler said. “He’s kind of like his own shut-down guy.”

Still, the 30-pitch fifth inning drove Fulmer’s pitch count from 52 to 82. With the Tigers cautious about his pitch count and conscious of having to possibly shut him down later in the season, removed him from the game after that clean sixth inning.

He was at 91 pitches.

“I felt good,” Fulmer said. “In the sixth it felt like I finally got loose and started to command the ball on the extreme sides of the plate. I could’ve gone out of the seventh but I’m not complaining about a team win.

“I pitch when they tell me to and I stop when they tell me to.”

After Shane Greene pitched a clean seventh inning – striking out Hicks and Rob Refsnyder – Justin Wilson was tagged for a run in the eighth. He gave up a two-out, two-strike single to Chase Headley, which plated Jacoby Ellsbury.

Greene, though, has been lethal since coming off the DL and working out of the bullpen. He’s faced 17 batters and fanned 10 of them.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez struck out the side in the ninth for his 19th straight save.

Fulmer wasn’t the only Tiger recording history Sunday. With a first-inning double, Miguel Cabrera notched career hit No. 2,400. He is the fifth youngest player to reach that milestone after Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount.

“If there was another league above MLB, he’d be playing in it,” Kinsler said. “He’s a special talent. And whenever you ask about another milestone for him, it’s not surprising. I’m just glad he’s on my team.”

The Tigers scored twice off Yankees starter Michael Pineda, but they left the bases loaded in the fourth and left another runner at third in the fifth. But all concern about those missed opportunities coming back to bite the Tigers were erased by Kinsler’s swat in the seventh inning.

The post-game talk, though, was Fulmer.

“He really hasn’t changed,” Kinsler said. “He’s been the same since he’s been called up. Even after he was knocked around a bit in his first couple starts, he’s the same guy…You are always surprised to see something like this because the Major Leagues is not easy. But he’s throwing the ball good and he has a lot of confidence and he’s going about his business the right way.

“Right now he has it rolling.”

It was the Tigers first winning road series since sweeping the Twins in Minneapolis in late April.