Fulmer, Skubal set tone in Tigers' 6-5 spring win over Orioles; Paredes shines in rare start at 2nd

Lynn Henning
Special to The Detroit News

Sarasota, Fla. — As celebrity storylines go, Saturday night was supposed to have been about pitchers Michael Fulmer and Tarik Skubal.

But that other kid who threatens to shake up spring camp, and maybe Tigers manager AJ Hinch’s roster plans for Opening Day, worked his way into the headliners’ mix as Detroit beat the Orioles, 6-5, at Ed Smith Stadium.

Isaac Paredes, who last month turned 22, moved from his customary left-side infield post and started Saturday at second base. He handled everything, smoothly, including the front end of a rugged first-inning double play that helped Fulmer, Detroit’s starter, nail down two solid innings in Fulmer’s first heavy work of spring camp.

Isaac Paredes showcased his fielding skills at second base in Saturday's 6-5 win over the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla.

Paredes also got on base twice: once, by way of another Paredes specialty, taking a walk. And then later when he got hit by a pitch in his left hand. He brushed off the bruise as casually as he handled Saturday’s ground balls and pop-ups. And then he went back to work.

The Tigers perhaps have something to think about, seriously, as they ponder Paredes and his long-term niche at Comerica Park.

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“Paredes has such good hands,” Hinch said after a game that saw the Tigers take a 6-0 lead, then all but toss it away as Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows had rough eighth and ninth innings.

“You saw that on the double play. He and Niko (Goodrum, shortstop) turned an incredible double play.”

It came in the first. Trey Mancini was on first, with one out, when Anthony Santander slapped a 3-2 pitch to the infield’s right side. Paredes snagged the ball on an in-between hop that Hinch acknowledged was “kind of awkward.” Paredes then whistled a throw to Goodrum, whose relay cut down Santander.

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Fulmer was spared a potentially first sloppy frame in his first start of the season.

Not a lot is riding, in 2021, on Paredes evolution at second base. Jonathan Schoop has occupancy there for at least this year. But any knack for playing on either side of the infield will make carrying Paredes, as either a later call-up or even as an early roster surprise, easier for Hinch.

“Paredes is well-equipped to handle the position,” Hinch said. “Tonight, he showed he has all the actions.”

The Tigers needed all the artistry they could summon in a game they led, 6-0, until the Orioles scored five times in the eighth and ninth innings. Funkhouser was slammed for three runs in the eighth (two hits, two walks) and Burrows was so shaky in the ninth (three hits, two runs) Zack Hess had to be hailed with two outs and a man on.

Right-hander Michael Fulmer will take Julio Teheran’s spot in the rotation. Fulmer threw 68 pitches in a strong four-inning stint against the Indians Friday.

He got the final out in a game that, early on, had indeed been the Fulmer-Skubal show.

Fulmer not only is shaking off years of knee and Tommy John surgeries, but he has also been on new-baby duty the past week after the birth of Sadie Caroline.

But he was sturdy Saturday. He was slapped for a lone hit, Mancini’s single, while striking out a batter in his two otherwise neat innings. His fastball topped out at 93, while his slider (87) was generally sharp.

“I was a little rusty, kind of thrown off my routine — for a good reason,” Fulmer said, speaking of the past week’s paternity duty. “But my stuff was there. It was moving the right way.”

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Hinch agreed.

“I thought his stuff was probably better than he might have thought,” the Tigers skipper said. “First outing. Long layoff. Go home for the baby. I think he’s got to give himself a little margin for error there.”

As for Skubal’s two-inning shift, there weren’t a lot of tough critiques.

He was firing his fastball at 96, working in a curve at 73, and tossing sliders and split-finger pitches anywhere in between. He was nicked for a single, struck out two, and walked none in a pair of low-pitch innings.

“His stuff was really good,” Hinch said. “The new split was pretty effective. Outside of his breaking-ball command, it was pretty exciting stuff from him tonight.”

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Skubal, a left-hander who has had quite the marvelous ascent since Detroit drafted him in 2018, is trying to convince a manager and the Tigers front office he belongs in Hinch’s Opening Day rotation.

“I feel like I understand the situation,” Skubal said. “I’m trying to win a rotation spot.”

A half-dozen runs

The Tigers were cruising Saturday with a 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of big innings.

They got two runs in the second on walks to Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, a hard single to right from Christin Stewart, and catcher Dustin Garneau’s high, chopping RBI bounce-out to third.

They got four more runs in the eighth as a pair of Orioles relievers (Zach Muckenhirn and Mickey Jannis) combined for four walks and two hits, which included a two-run single by Tigers first baseman Aderlin Rodriguez.

The bullpen carnage was so bad the Orioles rolled the inning — calling an end to the eighth before a third out had been racked up. It’s all procedural as teams try in earnest to protect pitchers who are still vulnerable and building up arms following 2020’s COVID-ravaged season.

Helping out

Funkhouser and Burrows might have had ugly Saturday stints, but Buck Farmer and Erasmo Ramirez followed Fulmer’s and Skubal’s scripts.

Farmer pitched a stress-free fifth, while Ramirez, who is 30 and was signed as a minor-league free agent, tossed a scoreless sixth and seventh.

Making the most

The Tigers had only five hits Saturday compared with nine for the Orioles.

One of those hits, a single, came by way of Akil Baddoo, the Rule 5 outfielder who also drew a walk. Baddoo is batting .364 a week into the Grapefruit League season.

Factor in his speed, and his talent for playing anywhere in the outfield, and the Tigers could be moving ever closer to adding another Rule 5 roster raid.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.