Detroit — He’s fighting himself. He’s fighting his command, especially with his fastball. He’s fighting, figuratively, with catcher James McCann’s pitch-calling.
These are peculiar times for Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer.
“It’s just embarrassing that I can’t go out and do what I’ve been doing over the years,” he said after he gave up five runs in less than four innings Tuesday in the Tigers’ 9-2 loss to the Angels. “I’m the one guy who is working the hardest at it, trust me. I’m trying to figure it out.
“But something’s got to change. Everybody else is doing their job and I’m not doing mine. In all my starts, the good ones and the bad ones, I don’t feel I’ve had the stuff I’ve had in the past.”
He hasn’t had the results, that is for sure.
Over his last five starts, including his rocky effort Tuesday, he’s been tagged for 20 runs in 25 1/3 innings. He’s allowed 23 hits and, significantly, 15 walks, four Tuesday. In his first six starts this season, he walked nine.
He has very suddenly, it seems, lost the ability to command his pitches, especially his fastball — which is fatal, even for those with Fulmer’s elite mix of pitches.
“It always gets back to that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You watched it; he was misfiring out there and every time he made a mistake, they made him pay. There was nothing smooth about his outing.
“He had to fight just about everything.”
The Angels scored five times off him, four in a 34-pitch second inning. And that after a clean 10-pitch first inning, getting former Tiger Justin Upton for the third out, looking at a knee-buckling slider.
“After that first inning, I thought it was going to be a different game,” Fulmer said. “The fastball was down. I felt like I could hit my spots. But a couple of hits and the home run and it all went downhill from there.”
The first four Angels reached base against him in that second inning. Luis Valbuena, who had been in a 1-for-21 slump, ripped an RBI single that sent Andrelton Simmons to third.
That set up the pivotal at-bat of the game for Fulmer, against his former teammate Ian Kinsler. Kinsler was in a 2-for-30 funk. And Fulmer, with the count even 2-2, had Kinsler swinging late and fouling off two 96-mph fastballs.
“I threw him two high fastballs that were right where I wanted to go with them,” he said. “There were multiple balls out of the zone up and he found a way to get a piece of them. And he waited for his pitch.”
Regrettably, Fulmer threw his first change-up of the game, an 85-mph pitch right into Kinsler’s wheelhouse — three-run home run.
“I guess it wasn’t the right call there,” Fulmer said. “I don’t think it was a bad pitch; it just wasn’t the right call.”
Fulmer shook signs from McCann repeatedly, and Gardenhire noticed.
“Him and the catcher weren’t on the same page,” he said. “There was a lot going on there, and that’s just frustration setting in and that’s when you get him out of the ball game.”
Fulmer admitted he and McCann were “a little off,” but said that was the result of his lack of faith in his off-speed pitches.
“That’s more on me than him,” Fulmer said. “He does his research. He does the scouting reports. And I do, as well. Tonight we were off. It’s not a knock on him. I think he put down the right fingers at times.
“It was more a confidence thing for me, not trusting a couple of pitches. That’s what happens when you leave everything up. I couldn’t find the bottom of the zone except in the first inning.”
Fulmer gave up a solo home run to Valbuena, his first of two, in the fourth and then walked Kinsler and Kole Calhoun. He was lifted at 77 pitches.
“It’s embarrassing the way I am pitching now because everything feels good,” he said. “That was my only goal coming into the season, stay healthy. I need to do a better job of getting back to my old form, going deep into games and giving us a chance to win.”
Fulmer steadfastly denied any physical issues. He had ulnar nerve transposition surgery last August, but after having some mild discomfort this spring, he said there were no issues with his arm.
“Zero excuses,” he said. “I feel 100 percent. The stuff is there, but it’s a matter of command.”
He believes the root of his problem is his inability to locate his fastball down in the zone. Even though his change-up has been a problem pitch all season, he said he can get by without it if he’s locating his fastball.
“I need to get back to pitching to contact,” he said. “I’m trying to miss bats instead of missing barrels. I need to make them put the ball in play, pitch down in the zone and go from there. My confidence is still there. My bullpens have been good, I think I’ve got it figured out but when I get into the game, it’s more of the same stuff.”
JaCoby Jones (fourth) and Jeimer Candelario (eighth) hit solo home runs to account for the Tigers offense. Candelario has now reached base in 23 straight games.
Kinsler had a single, double and home run, breaking out of his slump.
“This one is over with,” Gardenhire said. “We will do what we do every day, turn around, come back tomorrow and play.”