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Michael Fulmer seeks 'complete' game against Twins

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis – Few practice the art of positivity any better than Tigers’ right-hander Michael Fulmer. He focuses on the good, regardless of what his struggles may have been in any particular start.

Deep down, though, he is a realist. So, when asked ahead of his start against the Twins Sunday, if he felt he’d put together a complete outing yet this season, he didn’t hesitate.

Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer took the mound Sunday against the Twins.

“Complete?” he said. “No.”

He’s been good. Don’t misunderstand. He’s gone six innings in each of his three previous starts, the Tigers have won two of the three and he’s posted a 3.00 ERA and a 1.056 WHIP. But he hasn’t had that dominant, lock-down start like he had so often last season in his run to American League Rookie of the Year.

Something, be it his command or his secondary pitches, has been off in each of his first three starts.

“Overall, I have been happy with where I am for this being my fourth start,” he said on Saturday. “I’m not that excited about where the team is at (they had lost four straight) but we’re going to stay positive and get through this.”

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He started the home opener against the Red Sox on a chilly day and had no feel for his change-up or slider. And still he pitched six shutout innings.

The next start was against the Twins and he threw first-pitch strikes to all 23 batters he faced. Yet, his command was all over the place early. He needed 41 pitches to get through three innings, then something clicked and he retired the last 10 hitters he faced.

Move ahead to his last start in Tampa earlier this week. Seeing that he threw 23 first-pitch strikes, the Rays were ultra-aggressive, jumping on his early. Tim Beckham ambushed an early-count fastball for a two-run home run that ultimately beat him.

“I felt like they were really aggressive the first few innings,” he said. “We were up 1-0 early and I decided to throw my two-seamer more and try to get a lot of quick outs. I think I did that until the two-run homer.”

Now come the Twins again, just 11 days after he faced them in Detroit. Fulmer, obviously, wouldn’t disclose his game plan, but if the Twins want to try the same tactic as the Rays and jump on him early, he is OK with that.

“When guys are aggressive like that, I don’t try to shy away from the fastball,” Fulmer said. “I just try to make a quality first pitch and either run it in on their hands inside, or go low and away.”

If he can get early contact, early weak contact, and quick outs, that’s a win for him. It keeps his pitch count down and facilitates him going deeper in the game.

What he is looking for though, is a day when he has full command of both the two-seam and four-seam fastball, as well as the change-up and slider. It was the slider that he spent a good deal of bullpen time working on between starts.

“It’s all timing,” he said. “It’s me not trying to do too much with it. Especially to lefties, I have to make sure I don’t leave it down and in and right on their barrel. But sometimes you have to make adjustments, whether you want to throw it back-door or get it down on their back foot or on their hands.

“I’ve been working on it a lot, trying to throw it in different parts of the zone.”

The last time he faced the Twins, they didn’t make hard contact against either his change-up or slider.

Follow Chris McCosky on Twitter: @cmccosky