'Rough inning' dooms Tigers after Fulmer sparkles in return

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer

Detroit — There were two parts to this one. There was the promising return of the staff ace and the sudden demise of the back end of the bullpen.

Might as well get the negative out of the way first.

The Chicago White Sox batted around and scored six times in the eighth inning, erasing a 3-0 deficit against the Tigers' setup man (Joe Jimenez) and closer (Shane Greene), stealing a 6-3 win Friday at Comerica Park.

"They scored six runs off our two best pitchers," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That hadn't happened all year. Just one of those rough innings."

BOX SCORE: White Sox 6 ,Tigers 3

The big blows were a two-run double by Yoan Moncada off Jimenez, who was charged with four of the runs; an RBI double by Daniel Palka and two-run double by Tim Anderson off Greene, who didn’t record an out.

"The last outing (against the Cubs Tuesday) he started slow but then threw the living fire out of the ball," Gardenhire said of Jimenez. "Tonight, it looked like he was spinning a lot more balls and they were getting to them. 

"He didn't have command of his fastball that he normally does."

Since the All-Star break, Jimenez has been tagged for 12 runs and 12 hits in 10.1 innings.

"It's unfortunate, but these things happen sometimes," Gardenhire said. "They guys have been real, real good for us. They didn't have it tonight. You live with it."

Easier to live with was the first half of the game. The ace, Michael Fulmer, was back — impressively so.  

It was his first start for the Tigers since July 14 after spending nearly five weeks on the disabled list with an oblique strain. And he looked, well, like the dominant ace he’d been for most of his time with the Tigers until things went a bit sideways this season.

"He looked good and he felt good and that was all we were hoping for," Gardenhire said.

Fulmer was on a pitch count, so it was an abbreviated outing, but in 4.2 scoreless innings, he allowed just two hits and a walk with four strikeouts.

"It was a step in the right direction," Fulmer said. "The mechanical adjustments I've made paid off. I heard from Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson), Gardy and Mac (catcher James McCann) that this is probably the best stuff I've had all year.

"But I still think there's a lot to work on."

He gave up a bloop double to Palka leading off the second inning, a ball that center fielder Victor Reyes dived for and got his glove on but couldn’t hold on to. Then in the fourth inning, after he struck out Nicky Delmonico and Matt Davidson, with his pitch count beyond his allotted 70 pitches, he gave up a single to Omar Narvaez.

Fulmer, at 77 pitches and done for the night, walked off to a big ovation and with a 2-0 lead.  

"I took him out before I got to the mound," Gardenhire said. "Because I knew he'd be complaining about coming out. I know he's an animal and wants to keep going, but we had to set a 70-pitch limit."

Fulmer understood, but he would have at least liked the chance to plead his case.

"I would have liked to go deeper," he said. "Gardy made the motion to the bullpen real quick so there wasn't much persuading. When I got back to the dugout I said, 'Why don't you make the move a little later? Maybe I could persuade you.'"

He was laughing because he knew Gardenhire wasn't going to be persuaded on this night. Gardenhire said Fulmer's pitch count would increase 85-90 pitches in his next start. 

"It felt good to be back," Fulmer said. "Glad it was a quicker rehab than everyone expected, including myself. Just glad to be up here pitching and I hope to get this team a win next time."

He threw 51 fastballs (27 four-seamers) with a velocity range of 95-98 mph. Seven of his 13 swings and misses came with the fastball (five with the four-seamer). He also got seven called strikes and the average exit velocity on balls put in play was just 81.8 mph.

It was an encouraging outing, both for Fulmer and for the Tigers. Barring any other setback, Fulmer will likely make six more starts before the end of the season. That could go a long way in determining Fulmer’s market value, should the Tigers decide to flip him for prospects in the offseason.

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The Tigers have control over Fulmer, contractually, for four more years. So, the get-back would have to be significant to trade him. And as he struggled leading into the All-Star break, then injured himself in the first bullpen session after the break, his value to contending teams was negligible.

"He is that dominant guy," Gardenhire said. "He doesn't have to re-establish anything. All he's got to do is be healthy and he'll be fine."

Fulmer didn’t get a lot of offensive support Friday, but his mates made some stellar defensive plays behind him.

Left fielder Mikie Mahtook made a long, sliding catch to rob Davidson of an RBI single. He traveled 88 feet in 4.8 seconds, according to Statcast.

In the fourth inning with a runner at first, Nick Castellanos went back quickly and snared a line drive hit directly over his head by Anderson.

Castellanos had another huge night at the plate.

He drove in all three Tigers runs — with a double-play ground ball (no RBI) in the first inning, then with a pair of two-out singles in the third (off White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez) and the seventh (off reliever Jeanmar Gomez).

It was the 43rd multi-hit game for Castellanos, who is hitting over .400 with 14 RBIs in his last 11 games. He’s got 19 RBIs against the White Sox this season, which is the most by a Tigers’ hitter in a season against the White Sox since Charlie Maxwell knocked in 19 in 1959.