Tigers’ Fulmer will start twice before All-Star break

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Michael Fulmer, at 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA, is a strong candidate to win AL Rookie of the Year.

St. Petersburg, Fla. — The hope was that by rationing rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer’s innings before and after the All-Star break, the Tigers could avoid shutting him down completely in September.

It's going to be close. He may still have to skip some starts in July or August.

“We scheduled it out three weeks in advance,” manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday. “We set it up so Fulmer would pitch five days before the All-Star break and then five days after. That way he’s got that big stretch of days off.”

Fulmer will make his first start since June 22 on Friday night. Since June 12, he’s made just two starts and thrown 174 pitches. His innings total, before Friday, was 79, including his innings at Toledo.

After Friday, he will start again Wednesday at Cleveland. His next start after that is scheduled for July 19.

At that point, if you figure he goes seven innings (which would be the maximum) in his next two starts, he will be at 93 innings and have 14 more starts if he pitches every five days. That would put him at 191 innings, probably 20 more than the Tigers would want.

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Rick Porcello, in his rookie season in 2009, pitched 170 innings, and that was with then manager Jim Leyland limiting his pitch counts. Fulmer is a bigger-bodied pitcher, though, so that may not be the ideal comparison.

“Everyone has a theory, but no one really has any facts,” Ausmus said. “People don’t know what the exact answer is because we’re dealing with human beings and everyone is different.”

The Tigers have seven scheduled off-days after the All-Star break, so there would opportunities to manipulate the rotation to give Fulmer extra days between starts.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” Fulmer said. “I’m not complaining about it. I just have to go out and do my job whenever my name is called to pitch and go get a W that night.”

The innings rationing this early in the season was hastened by the fact that Fulmer complained of a dead arm in his last start, when he was pulled after just 4.1 innings.

“He got a little tired,” Ausmus said. “He’s not used to this type of schedule. He’s certainly not used to this type of schedule for six months, as opposed to five months when he was in the minor leagues.

“And you can add onto it that his spring training started earlier than if he was in the minor leagues.”

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Fulmer didn’t pick up a baseball for two full days after his last start. He has since thrown two bullpen sessions in preparation for this start – a short, 15-pitch one last Sunday and then a full one (35 pitches) on Tuesday.

“I mean, if they’re going to give me time I’m going to take it,” he said. “There’s no reason to overwork anything, especially if they’re going to give me time off.  I’m going to use it resourcefully.

“Hopefully tomorrow we’ll bounce back like we have been.”

With the extra time off between starts, the worry is Fulmer will be too strong and lose some of his command and maybe some feel on his secondary pitches.

“You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Ausmus said. “If we trot him out there every five days, then he runs out of innings. And if we rest him, he won’t run out of innings but he might not be quite as sharp.”

Fulmer said he felt plenty sharp in his bullpen sessions.

“I felt great in my bullpen,” he said. “I felt great the past few days playing catch. I think we’re back on track. Everything is normal.

“I don’t think there’s any worry right now. I’m just trying to do my job.”

There is an outside chance he could get an inning during the All-Star break – if he somehow was selected to pitch for the American League. Though that is the farthest thing from his mind.

“I’m just enjoying my time up here right now, trying to get the rest of these guys voted in there,” he said. “I don’t know if I have enough innings or anything like that. It’d be a dream come true if it did (happen).

“But I couldn’t tell you that I’m worried about it or thinking about it at all. I’m just trying to go out and do my job. And if something like that achievement comes up, it’d be a dream come true.”

Twitter @cmccosky