Detroit — Eight days.
That’s how long Michael Fulmer had to sit and stew on the worst outing of his young career. Eight days he had to wait to redeem himself after getting tagged for nine runs (six earned) in three innings in Cleveland on April 12.
“It stunk,” he said. “I didn’t want to wait eight days. But it gave me some time. I took three days off from throwing completely. I reset mentally and then went out and did my bullpen. There’s still more to work on, but today was promising.”
Fulmer went seven strong innings Friday in the Tigers’ 3-2, 10-inning win over the Royals. For the first five innings, he was virtually unhittable — two singles by Whit Merrifield and not one hard-hit ball.
“I thought he was really good today,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Two runs in seven innings, he gave us a chance to win the game — that was a good performance.”
Two days after the debacle in Cleveland, Fulmer sat in front of his locker as inclement weather postponed another game Saturday and said, determinedly, “Something’s got to change.”
First clue that things were different. His first three pitches of the game, all two-seam fastballs, had sharp, late movement. He struck out John Jay looking at all three. He never got his two-seamer to work in Cleveland.
Second clue that things were different. Fulmer induced just two swings and misses in 72 pitches in Cleveland. He had two in the first inning this time, and nine total.
His fastball velocity in Cleveland was 92-93 mph. He was ringing it in at 95-96 on Friday.
Different day, different opponent, better weather, the real Michael Fulmer.
“That was the best I felt in a long time, including spring training,” he said. “I was happy with everything. The mechanical adjustments went well. The sinker was good and slider was probably the best it’s ever been — especially in the first three innings.
“It got a little loopy and maybe a little predictable when I was going to throw it later on, but I felt good with it.”
He threw 35 sliders and only seven were put in play, with an average exit velocity of 77 mph (per Baseball Savant). He got six swings and misses and six called strikes with it.
Up 2-0 with two outs in the sixth inning, Fulmer hung a change-up to red-hot Mike Moustakas. That ball was driven 407 feet into the seats in right field.
“Middle-middle,” Fulmer said. “It was like a batting practice fastball to him. But everything else was good.”
The Royals nicked him for three ground-ball singles and a run to tie the game in the seventh. They still had runners on first and second and one out when he got Merrifield to slap into a 5-3 double-play, thanks to a strong throw by third baseman Jeimer Candelario.
“I knew that was my last batter,” he said with a laugh. “I had to get that double-play.”
Fulmer’s line: seven innings, eight hits, two runs, one walk and four strikeouts.
“I still don’t think I had my best stuff today,” he said. “Especially not for all seven innings. But I felt the best I have in a while.”
STICKING WITH IT
Tigers left-hander Daniel Stumpf has had a couple tough-luck outings recently, but he battled his way through a clutch scoreless eighth inning Friday.
“Those were going to be all his hitters,” Gardenhire said. “If you look at the numbers, that was the group of hitters he was supposed to get out. Lefties facing those guys, their power numbers are down.”
Stumpf got Moustakas to line out to Miguel Cabrera at first and struck out Lucas Duda. Those were two left-handed hitters. Right-handed hitters Chelsor Cuthbert and Abraham Almonte both singled.
Stumpf fell behind left-handed hitting Ryan Goins, but got him to line out to second baseman Dixon Machado.
“We showed faith in him, yes,” Gardenhire said. “But we needed him to get those hitters out.”
Gardenhire didn’t hesitate to lift Cabrera for a pinch-runner in the ninth inning of a tie game. Cabrera had walked to lead the inning off.
It’s been a subject of debate around these parts – taking Cabrera out of the lineup late in a close game when there is a chance his turn to hit could come around again. Gardenhire was asked if he worried about lifting Cabrera.
“Not if you want to try to win the game,” he said. “That’s what you have to do. I don’t want to get him killed. If we hit a ball in the gap and I have him running and he doesn’t score – that could cost us the ballgame.
“We know what we’re going to do late in games.”
Gardenhire told both Cabrera and Victor Martinez in spring training that he would be running for them in those situations.