Detroit — Michael Fulmer’s problem, which isn’t exactly a negative, is two-fold.
He’s a terrific pitcher.
And he shows not the least sign of wearing down, which means a team on a playoff safari is keeping a rookie on the mound and in its starting rotation.
“I just see it as another start,” Fulmer said Friday after he had struck out nine batters and walked zero in a seven-inning stage act that helped the Tigers to an 8-3 bashing of the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park.
The Tigers have a similar view even as they try to keep a sensible lid on the 23-year-old’s workload.
Fulmer has been handled with care this season — as much as the Tigers realistically believe they can treat gently a prized right-hander. The occasional missed start, the extra day of rest, all are strategies designed to keep Fulmer from dangerously stressing an arm that had never pitched more than 125 innings.
Until, that is, this season. Fulmer has 155 2/3 innings on his odometer. But the workload has been so rationed that not until he took Friday’s game into the seventh inning did he have sufficient innings to qualify for the league’s ERA title.
He now leads with an ERA of 2.95.
“I’ve been feeling good, I felt fine,” said Fulmer, who figures to get one more regular-season start, next week against Cleveland, if the Tigers’ rotation plans stay intact. “I just try to do my job.”
That’s the hang-up, of course.
Fulmer does his job a bit too well. The Tigers are taking advantage even if, had there been no realistic playoff shot, Fulmer’s offseason vacation might already have begun.
Justin Upton did it again. And nearly a second time Friday.
He hit a home run in the third inning, a liner against the left-field seats, for his 14th home run in his last 100 at-bats. He had doubled in his first at-bat as the smoldering batter continues to be the biggest game-changer in Detroit’s September lineup.
In the fifth, he nearly added home run No. 28 when he drove a fastball well onto the warning track in straightaway center field, a blast that traveled at least 410 feet.
Upton’s 14 homers since Aug. 21 are the most by any big-leaguer except Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, the home-run manufacturer who also has 14.
Brad Ausmus wasn’t pleased with the results of a sixth-inning replay that robbed the Tigers of a 3-6-1 double play.
And it wasn’t because Kendrys Morales was ruled safe at first after a long look (2 minutes, 18 seconds) led the umpires in New York to declare Morales safe.
Ausmus didn’t appreciate the sequence and duration of Royals manager Ned Yost’s appeal, not that Ausmus was blaming Yost.
The episode began with one out, and Royals runners at first and second. Morales ripped a grounder to Miguel Cabrera at first, who rifled a throw to shortstop Jose Iglesias, who whipped a relay to Fulmer covering first. The throw appeared to umpire Bob Davidson to have nipped Morales.
The crowd shrieked and Tigers players headed for the dugout. Fulmer included.
But then the umpires convened. Yost had asked for a review.
And that appeal, in Ausmus’ view, had arrived well after the expiration date, which is why he spent more than a minute after Morales was called safe pleading his case with the umpires.
“I was protesting the procedure that took place,” explained Ausmus, whose understanding of the rule is that a manager has 30 seconds to get the umpires’ attention and call for a review.
“Our pitcher was already in the dugout,” said Ausmus, who was careful not to start trouble with Yost.
“I’ve been in his shoes.”
Ausmus said he realized he couldn’t challenge a review, “but I wanted that statement in the books.”