Detroit — The 0-2 pitch to Hunter Pence with two outs in the top of the eighth inning Tuesday looked good and Michael Fulmer wanted it. Pence checked his swing and it was ruled a ball.
Fulmer jumped and did full 360-degree turn — that’s how badly he wanted it. Yes, it was his last batter and the third out of the inning. Yes, he would have walked off the mound with a 5-3 lead and another strong eight-inning outing.
But the reason he wanted that particular pitch so badly — it was a curveball, the fourth curveball he's thrown in a big-league game.
“It was a good one, I thought,” Fulmer said afterward.
Fulmer, who would get Pence to ground out on a change-up on the next pitch, is in the process of adding the curveball to his arsenal.
“I’ve been working on it during the last few bullpens now,” he said. “I’m trying to break it out slowly. Alex (Avila, his catcher on Tuesday) told me afterward, he said he has more confidence in it now, so he might start calling it a little more.”
Fulmer, who has relied on a slider and change-up as his secondary weapons, unveiled the curveball in the ninth inning of his previous start against the Royals. It was, to say the least, an inauspicious debut.
“He threw two of them,” manager Brad Ausmus said, chuckling. “One was almost a double down the right field line and the other got yanked foul. The early returns are sketchy.”
He threw two more on Tuesday and they were vastly improved. He threw it for a called strike on a 1-1 pitch to Denard Span leading off the sixth inning. Span stared out at him as if to say, “What was that?”
The second one was to Pence in the eighth and it had sharp, late bite.
“It’s good to test things out,” Ausmus said. “It’s one way pitchers adjust to hitters, by adding a pitch the hitters haven’t seen. Pitchers who have length careers usually add a pitch or tinker with a pitch at some point.”
The impetus for Fulmer to add the curveball is simple — his other two secondary pitches are relatively firm. His change-up and slider both register between 87-90 mph. There’s not a lot of discrepancies, in terms of velocity, off that and his upper-90s fastball.
“I wanted something a little slower,” he said. “I feel like the first few innings today were a prime example of them seeing an off-speed pitch and reacting to it because the change-up and slider are both firm.
“I think this (the curve) doesn’t give the hitter enough time to get out in front of it.”
Fulmer threw both curve balls at 78 mph.
“I want something slower just to put in the back of their minds that they have to sit back on a curve ball,” he said. “I am going to be trying to work it in a little more here and there. Everything feels good throwing it and I threw two good ones today — only two, but I am happy.”