Tigers' Fulmer antsy for next start after Cleveland nightmare

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The last thing Michael Fulmer wanted or needed was a few extra days between starts. Especially after what happened in his last start Thursday in Cleveland. It’s torturous.

“You know how when you think you figured something out, all you want to do is go out and play catch every day and work on it?” Fulmer said.

No chance.

The miserable weather conditions that postponed two-thirds of the Tigers-Yankees series this weekend — including the makeup split doubleheader Sunday — has denied Fulmer the chance to his usual between-starts work.

And, it’s going to delay his next start by another two days.

“I found some mechanical adjustments, even in Chicago I found some,” Fulmer said. “I’m trying to work on those. I played catch Friday and it felt so much better than on my start day.”

We’ll get back to those adjustments in a minute. First, let’s go back to Thursday. Fulmer gave up a lead-off home run to Francisco Lindor and then a ringing double to Jason Kipnis in the first inning, and he was never able to get back on track.

He didn’t survive the fourth inning, tagged for nine runs (six earned) and eight hits.

“Something’s got to change,” Fulmer said.

This was on Saturday, sitting in front of his locker, unable to go outside and throw because of the nasty weather. He had some time to reflect on all that went bad in Cleveland.

“I wasn’t on the same page with John (Hicks, catcher),” he said. “I was second-guessing all my pitches and I just didn’t understand why we wanted to do one thing instead of another. Especially when a guy leads off the game with a home run and it’s followed up with a double, you start second-guessing yourself immediately.

“We just have to do better next time. There’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Except learn from it.

He threw 72 pitches and got only two swings and misses. His money pitch, the two-seam fastball, wasn’t sinking. He threw 27 of them and the ones the Indians put in play left their bats with an average exit velocity of 100 mph, per Baseball Savant.

“Something about playing at Progressive Field, my sinker doesn’t move,” Fulmer said. “The sinkers that I threw, I started them where I wanted to, but they weren’t sinking.”

Case in point, the Lindor home run. It was the ninth pitch in the at-bat. Fulmer got in front 1-2 with three two-seamers. Then he mixed in a change-up, then a slider. With the count 2-2, Lindor fouled off two straight sinkers and then a slider.

The ninth pitch was a two-seamer that stayed up and away and Lindor, hitting left-handed, whacked it into the left-field bleachers.

“That’s where I start the pitch to have it finish off the plate,” Fulmer said. “I had thrown him a couple inside and I wanted to go down and away — it just stayed there.”

He abandoned the two-seamer quickly and ended up throwing more change-ups (20) and sliders (18) than two-seamers.

“You have to try to do something because your best pitch isn’t doing anything,” he said. “I just didn’t have it.”

Progressive Field has been a haunted house for Fulmer the last three seasons, just like it was for Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander in the past. His ERA in five starts there is 7.20 with a 1.80 WHIP. He’s given up more runs (106) and home runs (six) than he has in any other visiting park.

The Indians’ slash line against Fulmer at Progressive — .349/.393/585, plus a .978 OPS — is the highest against Fulmer in any other visiting park.

“There’s something about the mound,” Fulmer said. “Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio) talked about it. Progressive Field and Fenway Park (Boston), the mounds there might be angled a little differently.”

Fulmer explained that when he stands on the mound, it looks like it’s angled toward the right-hand batter’s box. Which would provide a better angle for a left-handed hitter. Before he made the start Thursday, Bosio worked with Fulmer to close his stance on the mound to counter that skewed angle.

“I am usually a little open with my feet on the rubber,” Fulmer said. “Boz was having me level off on the bullpen mound so when I did that in the game, it would look better.”

He said he started doing that in the third inning, out of desperation, and it was his only clean inning of the game.

“I am not saying that’s why I had a bad game,” he said. “They hit good pitches and they hit bad pitches that night. But when my best pitch isn’t working, I have to try something different.”

Fulmer has studied video of the game, pitch by pitch. He’s had conversations with both Bosio (who is convalescing at home) and interim pitching coach Rick Anderson. He thinks he found something.

“I never was finishing my pitches,” he said. “I wasn’t bending at the waist and my back leg wasn’t coming around.”

One of the first adjustments Bosio made with Fulmer this spring was to get him to swing his right leg, his back leg, higher on his follow-through and landing. It helped take some of the violence out of his delivery and better locate pitches at the bottom of the strike zone.

“That helps me keep my release point out front and helps keep my weight back longer,” Fulmer said back in February when he was implementing the adjustment. “It helps me get the ball down.”

Somehow he’d gotten back to his old habit of almost charging at the plate on his follow-through.

“I don’t know why, I was just not getting back there,” he said. “No idea. I think it’s just me trying to overthrow. I spoke with both Rick and Bosio and that’s what they saw. I am happy that I think I know what it is.”

Now if only he could actually get outside and work on it. His next start will be Friday against the Royals — a full eight days between starts.