Michael Fulmer perseveres through start in Tigers’ win

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer gave up one run on three hits in five innings against the Yankees Tuesday.

Tampa, Fla. — Considering it didn’t look like he’d survive the first inning, it turned out to be a gritty and productive start for right-hander Michael Fulmer in the Tigers’ 6-3 spring win over the Yankees.

He threw 35 pitches in that first inning, but still managed to fight through five, throwing 86 pitches (allowing one run and three hits) in his last spring start.

“After the first inning, I feel like I was able to settle down quite a bit,” Fulmer said. “Results-wise, I am happy with it. But personally, I am not that enthused by it. I still have some work to do, but my body feels great and I’m ready for the season.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Yankees 3

Fulmer will start the home opener at Comerica Park on April 8. He will not come north with the team, though. He will stay back and throw a three-inning, 45-pitch outing on the back fields to avoid going 10 days between starts.

“I could either stay down here or I could go up to Chicago and throw a sim game (simulated game),” he said. “I know I wouldn’t want to do that in 35-degree weather, and I am sure our hitters wouldn’t want to come out early and hit in 35-degree weather.”

Fulmer, who has been working on some slight mechanical fixes, started the game completely out of rhythm. He walked the first three batters he faced.

“He was off,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He was rushing early and his arm would never catch up. He couldn’t get to his release point consistently. He was all over the place.”

He went 3-1 on Matt Holliday before coming back to strike him out.

The next batter, Jacoby Ellsbury, hit a grounder to first that scored a run. Fulmer took the throw at first and seemed to slip when his foot hit the bag.

He was slow getting up, favoring his right ankle that he sprained early in camp. Both trainer Kevin Rand and manager Brad Ausmus raced out to the mound. Angel Nesbitt was throwing in the bullpen. But after a couple of throws, Fulmer said he was fine.

“More of a scare than anything,” he said. “I went to step on the base and pivot to check the runner at third and I just tweaked it again. But I’m good. No problem.”

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Fulmer, who was limping slightly after the game, gave up just the one run in that long first inning. He didn’t walk another batter and wound up throwing 86 pitches (47 strikes) in the five innings.

“Just a long first inning,” he said. “It took me a long time to get adjusted. That being said, I can’t make excuses about it. I have to go out and throw strikes and I wasn’t able to in that first inning.”

Getting up and down five times was critical for him. But it was a labor. His fastball velocity, normally 94-97 mph, was 90-93, touching 94 just a few times. After the first, though, he gained command of his slider and that was the pitch that got him through.

“I thought me and Alex (Avila, catcher) adjusted well,” Fulmer said. “It got to a point where I stopped trying to throw it by everybody. I just worked on throwing quality strikes and missing barrels.”

He retired the final eight batters he faced.

“I hate to say it but this is what spring training is for,” Fulmer said. “I’m trying to put the pieces together. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to in the first inning. But once I settled in and stopped trying to do too much, as far as trying to beat guys with the fastball, I got better quality strikes.”

The Tigers faced Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka for the fourth time this spring and finally got to him. A little.

He hadn’t given up a run all spring and through a four-inning no-hitter against the Tigers in his last outing against them. But it took just two batters Tuesday to crack the seal. Ian Kinsler singled and Alex Presley doubled him home.

Presley, making a bid for a roster spot, also doubled off Dellin Betances in the sixth inning scored when Justin Upton walloped his fifth home run of the spring — a majestic shot into the batter’s eye in center.

Presley, who also made a shoe-string catch in right field, is hitting .452 this spring.

“He’s certainly making a case,” Ausmus said. “It boils down to how we feel we can fill the gap with J.D. (Martinez), whether it’s with a platoon or a regular. Presley plays right field and center field, which helps him.

“But there are other things that are difficult. Tyler Collins being out of options is one of them. But he’s making a case and we’ve discussed it. We have not made a decision.”

Steven Moya blasted his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot that appeared to clear the stadium in right field.

Right-handed reliever Bruce Rondon gave up a long home run to Yankees' Aaron Judge on the first pitch he threw and gave up two runs in the seventh.

“He was better today than his last outing,” Ausmus said.

Barring injury or something unforeseen, Rondon has won a spot at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen.