Tigers' Ausmus: Fulmer 'deserves' rookie of the year

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland always thought an everyday position player should win a rookie of the year award over a pitcher.

He made that case in 2010, after Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson had lost out to Texas Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz.

So, how does current Tigers manager Brad Ausmus feel about it?

"I think it's fair," he said Saturday, before the second game of the series against the New York Mets.

Of course, the Tigers now have a pitcher who is a strong contender for American League rookie of the year.

That, of course, is right-hander Michael Fulmer, who leads all AL rookie starters in wins (nine), ERA (2.42) and strikeouts (88). His WHIP is 1.077 since making his major league debut April 29.

After a getting-situated first four games in the majors, Fulmer has been on an absolute tear, going 7-1 with a 1.49 ERA in his last 13 starts. The Tigers have won 12 of those games, keeping them in playoff contention.

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"He deserves it," Ausmus said of Fulmer's rookie of the year candidacy. "I don't know of the other candidates.

"But without question, he should be in the discussion."

Fulmer, 23, of course, has been an absolute godsend for the Tigers since being traded over from the Mets last July in a deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to New York.

Fulmer pitched for Double A Erie after arriving in the Detroit system last year, then moved up to Triple A Toledo this year.

Injuries forced a slightly earlier-than-expected callup in 2016, and he pitched more than well enough to cement his spot in the rotation.

The stuff, especially the fastball and slider but also a blossoming change-up, is electric, but perhaps most impressively has been the poise. He doesn't act like a rattled rookie on the mound.

With his big frame and big beard, he's fearless in his willingness to attack hitters. And he's not rattled by the occasional mistake pitch.

Asked who he'd compare that mentality to among rookie pitchers he's seen over the years, Ausmus first balked.

"I hate these questions," said Ausmus, who had an 18-year career as a major league catcher and is in Year 3 as a manager.

"You're asking me to pick a needle out of a haystack.

"(Clayton) Kershaw, how's that?"

Umm, yeah, that's not bad. Not bad at all.

Jeremy Hellickson, then of the Tampa Bay Rays, was the last AL pitcher to win rookie of the year, in 2011. Jacob deGrom, Sunday's pitcher for the New York Mets, last won it in the National League, in 2014.

Detroit's Justin Verlander was a near-unanimous winner in 2006.

Michael Fulmer

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As for Fulmer's stiffest competition in the AL, it seems to be down to a trio of pitchers (relievers Tony Barnette of the Texas Rangers, Ryan Dull of the Oakland A's and Chris Devenski of the Houston Astros), as well as a trio of hitters (Nomar Mazara of the Rangers, Max Kepler of the Minnesota Twins and Tyler Naquin of the Cleveland Indians).