'He's worked his tail off': Tigers front-loading Michael Fulmer's spring work load
Lakeland, Fla. — Every morning, pitching coaches Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves make themselves available to any pitcher who wants a little extra time, time that’s not already budgeted into their busy practice schedules, to work on their mechanics.
Just about every morning, Michael Fulmer has taken them up on the offer, going out to Fetter’s lab early to do dry (non-throwing) reps.
“He’s worked pretty diligently all offseason and here to get his mechanics back and get his arm faster to be more consistent with his pitches,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s worked his tail off.”
This will be Fulmer’s first full season back after major knee surgery and Tommy John surgery. His 10 mini-starts last year were essentially rehab starts. He’s still trying to figure out what kind of pitcher he’s going to be, post-surgery. And so are the Tigers.
That’s partly why Hinch and Fulmer agreed to front-load his spring. Tyler Alexander will start in the Grapefruit League opener at Joker Marchant Stadium Sunday and Fulmer will get the ball Monday against the Yankees in Tampa.
“We want to get him up and running quickly,” Hinch said. “It gives him an assessment and it gives us an assessment where he’s at today versus where he was last regular season. It’s not going to be all on these early starts. We have all sorts of ways to evaluate it.
“But we’re getting him up and running quickly because one, he’s physically ready and two, as he said, he had enough time off the last year or two. He wanted more mound time.”
One of the issues Fulmer has struggled with, really since the knee surgery, is generating power from his lower body in his delivery. He wasn’t getting his front foot down fast enough. There was a little hump in his delivery where he’d stick the heel of his front foot out causing the toe to go up, delaying the landing.
Fetter and Nieves have worked to get Fulmer to shorten his stride to help him get the foot down faster, which would increase his power down the mound and toward the plate.
“He’s pretty determined to get back to logging those innings and being a reliable starter,” Hinch said. “Rehabbing is one thing. That he had to do it in the big leagues was pretty unfair. But what he got out of last year, I mean, he’s mentally tough. There’s an edge to him about getting back to being a formidable part of the rotation.
“He wants to be a guy, someone we rely on.”
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Teheran, Urena arrive
The Tigers finally welcomed two of their new starting pitchers. Slowed by visa and COVID-19 quarantine and intake testing, veteran right-handers Jose Urena (signed for one year at $3.25 million) and Julio Teheran (non-roster invitee) — as well as first baseman Aderlin Rodriguez and right-hander Gerson Moreno, both non-roster invitees — were on the field Friday.
Teheran threw a bullpen on the backfields while Urena went through a meaty session of pitcher fielding practice.
“We’re going to get them ready pretty quickly, mostly because of the work they did prior to camp,” Hinch said. “They’re ready to go.”
Both Teheran, 30, and Urena, 29, are coming off rough seasons. Hinch said he hopes both will have at least one spring start under their belts by the first off day, which is March 8.
The Tigers, quite suddenly, have a bushel of switch-hitters — Robbie Grossman, Niko Goodrum, Willi Castro, Jeimer Candelario and Victor Reyes.
So, maybe there was a method to Hinch’s madness in pursuing, ne stalking, Jose Cruz, Jr., to be his assistant hitting coach. Cruz was a switch-hitter over his 12-year career in which he produced 204 homers and drove in 624 runs He even had a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season with the Blue Jays.
“A very underrated aspect of Cruz is the fact that he was a switch-hitter,” Hinch said. “And obviously a successful switch-hitter. He has the hardware and that’s really important to have for players. ... This is as many switch-hitters as I’ve ever been around and that’s an underrated advantage we have in having a premium switch-hitter as an assistant hitting coach.”