Fulmer’s bunt shows edge NL holds over AL teams

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Denver — The bunt is losing its old luster in baseball’s more enlightened realms.

And a moment from Tuesday’s game that saw the Rockies beat the Tigers, 7-3, revealed, in merely one context, why it’s becoming passe.

The Tigers had runners at second and first with one out in the fifth inning when Fulmer arrived for one of those National League home-field at-bats required by the side that still doesn’t believe in the designated hitter.

As about everyone at Coors Field expected, Fulmer squared around on a 96-mph German Marquez fastball.

And laid down a bunt.

Ah, but crashing from first base was Mark Reynolds, who scooped up the bunt near the pitching mound and fired to third base, forcing John Hicks, whose double had placed him at second base.

“That’s the advantage National League teams have in interleague games,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who played 18 big-league seasons, most of them as a catcher in the NL. “You can’t simulate 95-mph (pitches) when you’re practicing bunting. Bunting in a game is not the same.

“Michael tried to bunt it down the third-base line, but bunting in the cage or during batting practice isn’t the same as when you’re doing it during a game.”

Fulmer was all over himself Wednesday as the Tigers got ready for an afternoon game in the Rockies-Tigers series finale at Coors Field.

“It was pretty bad,” Fulmer said of his bunt, which in fact, other than directionally, wasn’t a bad bunt at all.

“Brad kind of gave me instructions that if the wheel play was on (shortstop moving to third base, third baseman charging, second baseman covering first, etc.) I’d swing away.

“But if I get that bunt right, we might have the bases loaded and we probably win the game.”

Fulmer’s dream scenario, of course, would have required that he make a perfect bunt, beat it out, and that the Tigers would have had an inning big enough to withstand the seven runs the Rockies scored.

But he conceded there is difficulty to big-league bunting that makes it anything but the slam-dunk bunting advocates believe it should be.

“We don’t bunt against 96,” he said, meaning it’s impractical, and a bit foolish, to believe pitchers or players can practice the so-called art against pitchers who, on their off-days, can’t be throwing game-day stuff.

Ausmus understands a different set of realities govern National League games. Pitchers bat. And that means the bunt must be used when otherwise entrusting a pitcher to get a hit with runners on base is fanciful rather than reasonable.

The modern-day thinking about bunting is that it too often wastes an out. That the batter is better off swinging for a hit — or, more fruitfully, for an extra-base hit — that can lead to bigger and better scoring chances.

“The math says it’s not really worth it,” Ausmus said of bunting, “especially with two out.

“And with our lineup, with a runner at first and no one out, I’d rather take three shots getting him in rather than have him at second with one out.”

The Tigers were hoping Wednesday they wouldn’t be caught in any debates.

They had Justin Verlander readying for his start against Chad Bettis. And, once again, the specter of possible trades ahead of Friday’s deadline for players being eligible for the post-season, was hanging over Verlander, who is believed yet to be on a couple of teams’ potential shopping list, including the Astros.

Jon Paul Morosi of Foxsports.com said Wednesday on Twitter that a second, unnamed team was also interested in Verlander.

For the second consecutive day, Miguel Cabrera was out of the Tigers lineup because of a tight back. Justin Upton, however, who fouled a pitch off his leg Tuesday and left the game, was back in left field for the Tigers.