Sudden strike: Right pitch, bad result for Fulmer, Tigers
Cincinnati — Michael Fulmer didn't second-guess a thing after essentially getting beat in a two-pitch sequence Wednesday afternoon. He didn't second-guess the pitch selection or the execution.
"The best way to put it is, I'm mad at the results, but I am not mad at the way I pitched," he said after the Tigers lost 5-3 and were swept by the Reds in a two-game, interleague set at home-run friendly Great American Ball Park. "I feel like I am so close to being back to where I want to be.
"My last two starts have been good, and today my stuff was even better."
He was cruising into the sixth inning. He had a 2-0 lead and had allowed just two hits. He was at 69 pitches, throwing mostly fastballs, all between 95-98 mph. He was looking so strong, in fact, that manager Ron Gardenhire said he never contemplated removing him for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth, when the Tigers had bases loaded and two outs.
"That doesn't make any sense at all," Gardenhire said. "I was expecting nine innings out of him at that point. Just because it's National League rules I have to pinch-hit for him? No. The next guy could come up and not knock in a run, either.
"That's his ballgame, completely his ballgame. That's who he is. He's our ace and we expect him to keep going."
Scott Schebler led off the pivotal sixth with a double and went to third on a flyout by Tucker Barnhart. But it looked like Fulmer was going to pitch his way out of it. He struck out Joey Votto, getting him to take half-swings at a 97-mph fastball and then an 87-mph slider.
Scooter Gennett was next and Fulmer got ahead of him 1-2. After he threw three straight 98-mph chin-high fastballs — two that were fouled back — he mixed in a slider that was down in the zone. Not a horrible-looking pitch. But Gennett was all over it, golfing it into the short porch in right field.
"That slider to Gennett, I thought it was the right pitch," said Fulmer, who struck out a season-high nine. "I think I located it well. I thought it was going to bounce. (Catcher James) McCann was ready to drop and block for me.
"And he dropped the barrel on it. Just great hitting by him."
Former Tiger Eugenio Suarez followed, hitting the next pitch, another slider, on a line that went off the top of the wall and was initially ruled in play. But video replay correctly overturned it — home run.
"We're talking about two pitches that you can't even say you want them back," McCann said. "They were good pitches. Sometimes you tip your cap when a guy puts a good swing on a ball. Or in this case, the stadium helps out."
The right-field wall tapers quickly from 370 feet in right center to 325 down the line. It's similar in left field, tapering from 379 feet to 328 down the line. Gennett's homer (397 feet), and Votto's grand slam on Tuesday (329 feet) went out to right.
Suarez's home run (356 feet) just cleared in left.
"I held my breath on every fly ball," Fulmer said. "All their lefties have good swings and they are low-ball hitters. So when I try to go up in the zone and they pop it up, there's still a good chance of it going out of the park, too."
Still, Fulmer has allowed just five runs in his last three starts with 20 strikeouts.
"He had a couple of rough starts and, I don't want to say he went back to the drawing board, but he made an adjustment," McCann said. "He found a way to get back to his old form.
"Whatever he's doing, he needs to keep doing it."
There were five home runs hit Wednesday — Jeimer Candelario (11) and Niko Goodrum (seven) for the Tigers. The Reds hit four in the two games.
"It was a two-pitch sequence that plays to this ballpark," Gardenhire said. "The ball flies here and they got hitters who can juice a baseball. They got the lift and that's what it was. It was a good ballgame. It's just frustrating because our starter threw so damn well."