Cleveland — Here’s the dilemma a pitcher faces against a disciplined and dangerous offensive team like the Indians:
They aren’t typically going to bite on pitches thrown outside the strike zone, even the ones on the edges.
So, if you aren’t getting those 50-50 calls on the edges, as was the case for Tigers’ right-hander Michael Fulmer Friday night, your other option is to put the ball more in the heart of the plate — which resulted in six runs and seven hits off Fulmer in five innings, not to mention three walks.
It looked like Fulmer was fighting his command, especially early. But he insisted he was not.
“Not at all,” he said. “They had some great takes. Balls just out of the zone, just off the plate, whatever it is. They battled with two strikes and found a way to get it done.”
Fulmer’s fastball was as firm as ever, averaging 95.5 mph and touching 96 mph. He didn’t give up any hits off his slider but his change-up wasn’t quite as effective. Still, it wasn’t like he was rusty or his stuff wasn’t good.
He just got into situations where he had to give in and challenge a good hitting team – and he paid for it.
“I think confidence is still there,” Fulmer said. “I just have to work on executing my pitches a little better. Other than that, I felt good, felt sharp. Didn't want to miss over the heart of the plate with these guys, so I think there was just a little too much nibbling.
“But altogether I felt good.”
Fulmer was working on six days of rest between his starts; so let’s dispel a myth right here. Until Friday, Fulmer has had better results with extra days of rest. It hasn’t been the other way around.
Before Friday, he was 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA with one extra day of rest. He was 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA with two or more days of rest. On normal rest, four days, he was 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA.
“There was two ways we could have done it,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We could have stretched him out like we have and get him through the season, or we could have let him pitch every five days and then shut him down a week ago.
“I think this is the better way. I would hate to be going into the last two weeks of the season without Michael Fulmer.”
The extra rest is not the reason Fulmer has a 6.28 ERA (20 runs in 28.2 innings) and a .278 opponents’ batting average in his last five starts since throwing a complete game shutout against Texas.
“You try to take away the positives,” Fulmer said. “That's the only thing you can do. There's a few bloop singles and base hits that didn't go our way. I thought altogether that I felt good, I felt sharp. Just didn't throw enough strikes and that's what happens.”
It continued an ugly stretch for Tigers’ starting pitching. In the last seven games, the starters’ ERA is 11.48 and a starting pitcher hasn’t won a game since Aug. 26 when Justin Verlander beat the Angles – that’s 19 games without a win for a starting pitcher.