'I like what I saw': Tigers' Michael Fulmer masterful in three innings out of bullpen

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Clearwater, Fla. – Let’s not bury Michael Fulmer just yet.

After two rough starts, manager AJ Hinch wanted to change the scenery a bit, so he brought the right-handed Fulmer into the middle of the Tigers’ 5-3 spring win over the Phillies on Sunday.

Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer, shown here last season, pitched three scoreless innings on Sunday.

Even though Fulmer has never pitched out of the bullpen in his big-league career, it worked like an elixir.

Fulmer blew through three scoreless innings -- the fourth, fifth and sixth -- in 39 masterfully-mixed pitches. He allowed one single, struck out three and got nine swings and misses. Unlike his last two starts, he didn’t try to force velocity out of his fastball, and he threw his secondary pitches with confidence.

“I like what I saw,” Hinch said. “He accomplished everything he wanted and everything we wanted. He wanted to show some conviction and let it loose and go attack hitters – and he did that.”

How is this for a mix: Nine sinkers (93 mph), nine change-ups, nine sliders, eight four-seam fastballs, four curveballs.  He got swings-and-misses with all of them. The exit velocity on the seven balls the Phillies put in play was 88.1 mph, mostly soft contact.  

“He worked hard through the outing to just stay one pitch at a time,” Hinch said. “Just do one good rep and follow that with a second good rep and a third good rep. He threw the ball certainly as well as he has this spring.

“It was an encouraging outing.”

So, what next? He should have two more outings before the Tigers break camp. Will it be out of the bullpen again, or, with Spencer Turnbull shut down (COVID-19 protocol), will he go back to a traditional start.

“Not sure yet,” Hinch said. “We’ll talk as a group and we’ll talk to Michael. We’re happy with what he did today. This gives him something to build from. Also, it gets him feeling good going home tonight and that’s really all that mattered tonight.”

Fulmer, who was not made available on Zoom afterward, had good success throwing his slider to right-handed hitters and his change-up to left-handers. On a three-pitch punch-out of lefty Odubel Herrera, he started him with a curveball, then got him to swing through back-to-back change-ups.

He got lefty Bryce Harper to hit a rollover ground out with a 3-2 backdoor slider. In a strikeout of right-hander Alec Bohm, he dusted him with a sinker-slider combination.

In a strikeout of left-handed hitting Andrew Knapp, Fulmer used a curveball, sinker and then an elevated four-seam fastball to set up a swing-and-miss curveball in the dirt.

“He could’ve easily gone back out there (for a fourth inning),” Hinch said. “His pitch-count was that low. But he accomplished what we wanted and what he wanted.”

Baddoo still doing

He’s not going away.

Rule 5 rookie outfielder Akil Baddoo hit his fourth home run of the spring, whacking a 93.5-mph fastball from Phillies starter Chase Anderson over the right-field wall. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 104 mph.

That came after he led off the game by grinding out a seven-pitch at-bat, fouling off four 2-2 pitches before striking out on a cutter.

“We love the talent,” said Hinch, who gave his strongest indication yet that Baddoo was forcing his way onto the Opening Day roster. “Every time we put a challenge in front of him he’s been able to answer it. He looks like he belongs.

“He’s played well enough for us to strongly consider keeping him.”

That presents a very difficult conversation for Hinch and general manager Al Avila. Carrying five outfielders, none of whom play an infield position, would be unwieldy. It would leave Hinch with two outfielders, a back-up catcher and one utility player on the bench.

Carrying 13 pitchers is problematic, too. 

“There’s nothing he can’t do on the field,” Hinch said. “Which is a great sign. Whether or not he’s ready to break (camp) with us and contribute to a major league team is what we’ve been trying to focus on all spring.

“He’s forcing our hand to consider something to make him a part of what we are doing moving forward. We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

Niko bomb

You know that had to feel good.

Niko Goodrum was in a 0-for-23 drought with 12 strikeouts when, batting left-handed in the fourth inning, he jumped a first-pitch, center-cut, 92-mph fastball from Anderson and knocked it 432 feet, literally out of the park. It landed on the highway that runs behind the right field wall at BayCare Ballpark.

“He’s been working really hard,” Hinch said. “As spring goes along and as the season gets closer, you see some guys start to dial in their focus and energy. He got rewarded for that today.”

He also started in left field, the sixth different position he has played this spring.

Around the horn

Matt Manning, who has already been optioned to Triple-A Toledo, gave up two runs on three hits and a pair of walks in two innings. He might’ve escaped the first inning a little sooner, but first baseman Renato Nunez dropped a throw on what would have been a 4-6-3 double-play with the bases loaded.

… Right-hander Kyle Funkhouser made his first spring appearance since he was optioned to Triple-A Toledo in the first round of cuts. His marching orders were to throw more strikes. In a scoreless eighth inning Sunday, 13 of his 16 pitches were strikes.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky