Detroit — Michael Fulmer won’t settle for decent. He won’t settle for a quality start. He won’t settle for being just good.
All he took out of his solid 6 2/3 innings of work Saturday was frustration and a loss.
“We’ve got to win,” he said after the Tampa Bay Rays scored twice in the seventh and hung on for a 3-2 win. “You pitch to the score. If your team puts up two runs, you need to give up less. That’s how I look at it. I know I could have been better today.”
It’s the four walks he issued that chafed him, especially the last one — a lead-off walk to Steven Souza, Jr., in the top of the seventh after he had him in an 0-2 hole.
“Just out of rhythm and missed my location,” he said. “Walks come back to haunt you.”
Fulmer has worked all year to eliminate that particular stench from his game. He’d issued 13 walks in his first seven starts this season, then cut that dramatically to three over his last five starts.
Then came the four walks on Saturday. On at least two of them he stared in at home-plate umpire Jerry Meals thinking he got squeezed on two-strike calls. Afterward, he blamed no one but himself.
“He has a strike zone,” Fulmer said. “You can’t complain too much. If he didn’t call it, then it wasn’t a strike. I need to do a better job of making quality pitches for his strike zone.”
The Tigers had taken a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth off Rays ace Chris Archer, who had his trademark slider working and punched out eight Tigers in six innings. But he threw a 96-mph fastball to Miguel Cabrera leading off the sixth, and it was blasted 385 feet into the seats in right field.
Cabrera had gone 103 plate appearances between his fifth and six home runs this season. He waited only seven more before whacking his seventh.
“Miggy is definitely swinging it better,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “I tried to tell you I wasn’t worried about him.”
After losing Souza in the top of the seventh, Fulmer got two ground-ball outs — both advancing Souza to third. That brought up Daniel Robertson, who has been a thorn to the Tigers with five RBIs in the last two games. He hit a hard ground ball to the right side of the infield.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler didn’t get his usual good jump on the ball and he was a half-step from getting to it on a dive.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “I thought it was hit right at me, but when I finally picked it up, it was to my left.”
The ball rolled off his glove and Souza scored.
Fulmer left one batter later, after allowing a single to Derek Norris.
Ausmus called on right-hander Alex Wilson to face left-handed hitting Mallex Smith. Wilson, who features a cutter, has gotten lefties out better than right-handed hitters in his career. But he fell behind 3-1 and Smith drove home Robertson with a sharp single to put the Rays ahead.
“Fulmer went 6 2/3 and gave up three runs — that’s a pretty good outing,” Ausmus said.
Especially considering it had been eight days since his last start. He was given extra time to work through shoulder bursitis.
“I thought he looked completely normal,” Ausmus said. “I wouldn’t have been able to tell you he had any shoulder issue at all.”
Fulmer didn’t feel exactly normal.
“I went three days without even playing catch after seeing the doctor (and getting a cortisone shot),” he said. “It bugs you a little. You get out of whack. But that shouldn’t be an excuse. I should have done a better job of throwing quality strikes.”
His fastball was ringing in at 97 mph and his change-up was very effective.
“Overall, he looked good for having that much time off — he had pretty good command,” said catcher Alex Avila, who had two hits off Archer. “The slider was hit and miss. He got hurt in that seventh inning with a couple of hanging sliders.”
The Tigers, after scoring 13 runs Friday, left nine runners on base and were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position — albeit against two stingy pitchers — Archer and closer Alex Colome.
“We had opportunities,” Avila said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit. And that’s typical in games when you come up short like this. You just don’t get that one hit that can break it open.”
The Tigers threatened in both the eighth and ninth, but Colome slammed the door. In the eighth. Justin Upton hit a 106-mph smash that took a wicked hop past shortstop Tim Beckham. Upton kept running and left fielder Corey Dickerson didn’t field it cleanly either.
It was scored a double.
Colome was summoned to replace Junior Diaz and struck out Alex Presley and got pinch-hitter Nick Castellanos to ground out.
In the ninth, Mikie Mahtook singled and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jose Iglesias. Colome got Kinsler to fly to left and Avila grounded sharply to second base.