Detroit — For a man who might not pitch in a big-league game until next spring, Michael Fulmer was in a bubbly mood Friday night at Comerica Park.
It was a matter, the Tigers starter said, of counting blessings. Rather than deal with a year or more of recovery from Tommy John surgery, Fulmer’s ailing right (throwing) elbow is viewed by doctors, he said, as a comparatively minor repair.
Fulmer has ulnar neuritis.
“The ulnar nerve gets out of track,” Fulmer said, offering the doctors’ summary of a problem Fulmer has been dealing with off and on for the past two years.
Fulmer will miss at least his next two starts. He has an appointment next week with the acknowledged expert in pitchers’ arm issues, James Andrews, of Pensacola, Fla. If surgery is required, Fulmer and the Tigers want to pursue it immediately.
Fulmer said the timetable for recovery is 3-4 months.
“This is nothing to panic about,” said Fulmer, who felt his elbow “zap” during Tuesday’s start at Colorado. “This is a best-case scenario.”
Fulmer hit the disabled list July 31 after he felt deeper numbness and tingling in his elbow.
He has made four starts since and, while he hasn’t been as sharp as in starts earlier this year, or in 2016 when he was the American League’s Rookie of the Year, doctors told him there was no risk in continuing to pitch.
“I’ve been told it can’t get any worse,” said Fulmer, whose MRI exam was analyzed by Andrews, by an orthopedist in New York, and by Tigers physician Stephen Lemos.
"Every doctor was on the same page,” Fulmer said. “They all said the same thing. I was told it wasn’t going to get worse.”
Fulmer said MRI readings indicated “the structural was fantastic” and that there was no ligament damage.
“It’s just one little nagging injury,” said Fulmer, 24, who came to the Tigers two years ago from the Mets in a deadline trade for Yoenis Cespedes.
“My plan right now is to be at spring training, 2018,” Fulmer said. “We’re going to check it out and figure out what’s next.”
That goes, as well, for the Tigers.
“We’re at a tipping point,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, “where, let’s get another opinion and if something has to be done, let’s get it done so he’s ready to go next season.”
The Tigers are drawing from their Triple-A Toledo stable in a bid to fill rotation spots. Justin Verlander is gone after Thursday’s trade with the Astros, while Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris are working rehab starts in the minors following trips to the disabled list.
Now, Fulmer is gone, temporarily, if not until 2018.
The Tigers retrieved left-hander Chad Bell to start in Fulmer’s place Sunday against the Indians. Artie Lewicki, another of the Mud Hens cast, will pitch Monday for the Tigers.
Late Friday, the Tigers also summoned right-hander Myles Jaye, who can start or pitch long relief.
They are bringing up a position player, as well — third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who came to the Tigers in last month’s trade that sent Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs.
Candelario had a cameo last month with the Tigers before he returned to Toledo.