Detroit – What an odd, lonely feeling it must have been.
Tuesday was the last official day of spring training. In a normal year, TigerTown would be teeming with excitement and anticipation. Following the final Grapefruit League game, which was scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. against the Pirates, players, those that made the 26-man roster, would be packing their bags and getting ready to fly to Cleveland to open the regular season.
But there is nothing normal about these times.
There was Michael Fulmer walking off the back fields Tuesday, a solitary figure just finishing his work. He walked back into a mostly empty clubhouse, showered, walked through a mostly-vacated players parking lot, climbed into his over-sized truck and headed back to his place in Lakeland to spend the rest of the night with his wife Kelsey and 11-month-old son Miles.
“That’s all we can do here,” Fulmer said in a phone interview with The Detroit News. “Just go to the field, get my stuff done and go straight home for the rest of the night. This just kind of sucks for everybody.”
Fulmer, who is nearing the final phase of his rehabilitation after Tommy John surgery, said on Tuesday that there were six or seven players on the Tigers’ 40-man roster still working out at the facility. But at least two of those – pitchers Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris – have since left and are expected to continue workouts at Comerica Park.
Listen, there are no true silver linings here. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, continues to kill people, continues to be a global menace. The travails of baseball players are way down the list of national concerns. So please read this next sentence in that context.
The reality is, in a purely baseball sense, the delayed start to the season could work out in Fulmer’s favor. He wasn’t expected to return until after the All-Star break in July. So if there is a baseball season in 2020, if the starting date is pushed back into June or July and the regular season is extended into October, Fulmer theoretically wouldn’t miss as many starts.
“It moves up my timeline but then again, I would be missing time anyway, whether we’re playing or not,” Fulmer said. “I want to play every game I can, but it kind of sucks not to have baseball right now. The season is supposed to be starting.
“It’s just bad for everybody, including guys in my position. I don’t want to see anybody suffer. I already knew I was going to miss time anyway.”
Think about this: The last time Fulmer pitched in a big-league game was Sept. 15, 2018 in Cleveland. He faced two batters, gave up two solo home runs and a week later had major surgery on his right knee. As he was trying to work his back from that surgery last spring, his elbow blew out.
Now, 18 months later, Fulmer’s recovery is on track. There is at last some real light at the end of this long tunnel. He has already thrown lightly off a mound four times. His knee is strong and stable. Barring any setback, he would probably be in line to start a rehab assignment the second week of July.
If that progressed well, he could conceivably make his 2020 debut in early August. And if the schedule stretched through October, he’d get an extra month of starts.
Yes, the number of starts Michael Fulmer gets this season is inconsequential in context of the pandemic, but come on – the guy deserves a good break.
“Whatever we do, it’s going to be a shortened season,” he said. “But that might help me, coming off TJ and limiting my innings a little bit without having to do so by missing starts and getting pushed back. I think it could be a good thing for me personally, the fact that they might push the season back a little bit.
“But I don’t know how it’s going to work.”
Nobody does right now. Best for Fulmer to keep his sights on his recovery and not look too far forward.
“I don’t think there are any positives to take out of it,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay on my routine. I know my timeline. I’m just trying to get back as quick as I can, no matter what the baseball season ends up looking like.”
And in the meantime, he and Kelsey have their hands full with Miles, who is just about ready to take his first steps.