Baby No. 2 arrives early for Fulmer, Tigers tweak pitching plans
Lakeland, Fla. — Remember all that talk from Friday about front-loading Michael Fulmer’s spring workload? Well, forget about that.
Fulmer was called home to Oklahoma Friday night. His wife Kelsey delivered their second child, a girl, a few days ahead of her due date. Manager AJ Hinch reported that Kelsey and the baby were doing fine, but his pitching plans needed some revision.
Fulmer was scheduled to start against the Yankees in Tampa on Monday. Instead, right-hander Kyle Funkhouser will get the start.
“Funk was scheduled to pitch that day anyway and we didn’t want to unravel the plan that had been put in place around (Fulmer),” Hinch said. “We have a plan mapped out for every starter. Funk has started before, so it was pretty simple to slide him in.”
Fulmer, who will go through COVID-19 intake testing again, is expected back in camp early next week. And, as it turns out, even though he gets pushed to the back of the spring rotation, he shouldn’t miss any starts.
“He won’t miss anything,” Hinch said. “Like, if we didn’t have that conversation about starting him early, you would have thought we were starting him right on time.”
The Tigers open their Grapefruit League schedule Sunday against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium. Lefty Tyler Alexander will start for the Tigers and old friend Ivan Nova will get the ball for the Phillies. Nova was limited to four starts with the Tigers last year by a triceps injury.
Hinch also said Saturday that he expects the first four or five spring games to be shortened to seven innings — which is as much about protecting the health and safety of the position players as it is about the pitchers.
“It’s always subject to change, with COVID or field availability,” he said. “But most of us would automatically go to thinking about the pitchers, but the position player pool across the game is just as delayed as pitchers.
“It’s as much about position players not being ready to play deep into games as to why games will be limited to seven innings.”
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Teams have the option of reducing spring games to five innings, as well. But even though the Tigers are still without several key position players — Jonathan Schoop, Nomar Mazara and Renato Nunez — Hinch doesn’t want to go that far.
“I don’t want to go below seven,” he said. “But if the other team has to do it because of their situation, I would say yes and cooperate. But right now we’re not planning on that.”
Hinch said he hopes to be playing nine-inning games by the first universal off day, March 8.