Thrown right into the fire? That's how Tigers Michael Fulmer wanted it
Detroit – Talk about ripping the band-aid off. Michael Fulmer had started all 85 games he’s pitched in his big-league career, until Saturday when manager AJ Hinch summoned him out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of a one-run game.
Way to ease him in, Skip.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Fulmer, who pitched a clean inning in his bullpen debut. “Did I expect to be put in that situation for the first time? No. Was I happy it happened? Absolutely. I asked AJ, I kind of want to dive off into the deep end here and just go out, not think and do my job.
“I’m thankful for the situation he let me throw in.”
It was just one outing, of course, but there was a lot to take away from it. For one, Fulmer’s velocity was back up close to where it was back in his Rookie of the Year and All-Star seasons of 2016 and 2017. The average velocity on his four-seam fastball was 95 mph and his sinker topped out at 95.9.
Was that a function of just letting it eat in a short stint, or a sign that he’s close to being all the way back from knee and Tommy John surgery?
“I’ve heard guys say they throw harder out of the bullpen, but I never believed it,” he said. “They say it’s just a mentality thing, but my mentality is always go 110 percent on every pitch and get the guy out right here – whether it’s the first inning or the eighth inning doesn’t matter.
“Do I think it’s strictly because I’m coming out of the bullpen? No.”
Fulmer said the velocity increase (he averaged 93 mph last year) has just as much to do with the mechanical changes he’s made through spring training and his health.
“We finally tweaked some things and I am getting back down on my back side (in his delivery) a lot more,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s just being a little more healthy, time-wise, for the knee and the elbow. The stuff I’ve worked on in the off-season and spring training finally just clicked out of the pen.”
One of the revelations of bullpen work, though, something he will take with him when/if he returns to a starting role, is that he doesn’t need nearly as much prep time as he thought. His routine and throwing program don’t need to be as labor-intensive as they were to get his body ready to pitch.
“It’s just going out and pitching,” he said. “Am I done starting? Probably not. But I’m going to carry that mentality back to the starting role when the chance arrives. I don’t think it’s a different mentality, only that I know I am going to go for three outs, six outs, nine outs – just attack a little more.
“The big test was going to be this morning and how my body felt. And I feel great. I am ready to do it again today.”
Fulmer is one of four re-positioned starters in the Tigers'’ bullpen. Daniel Norris, Tyler Alexander and Derek Holland are the others. It lends a unique dynamic to this bullpen.
“I was thinking about that after we broke camp,” Fulmer said. “The versatility of this bullpen is unbelievable. We have guys that can do any role that AJ wants. And AJ has been awesome about how he’s expressed how he intends to use it.
“Just stuff I haven’t heard before from a manager or from an analytical perspective. It’s nice to know all the information we have and with the versatility of this bullpen, anybody can be used at any time. We’re excited about that down there.”
Hinch, in turn, has made a repeated point of acknowledging and crediting the willingness and commitment the veteran starters-turned-relievers have made in embracing the change.
"Him embracing this role and this opportunity and not taking the negative is a great example to all players around the league," Hinch said. "It's pretty awesome to be at this level, but it's even better when you can take the good out of every situation and make the most of it."
Fulmer popped into Hinch's office first thing Sunday morning and told him he was ready and available if needed.
“I am happy to whatever I can for the team to help them win,” Fulmer said. “The way I look at it, if we have five or six starters that can go out and perform the way Matty B (Boyd) and Julio (Teheran) did the first two games, then it puts the team in a good position.
“If I can stay in the bullpen, that means our starters are doing extremely well and I am happy for them and our team. If we have five or six starters who go out and shove every fifth and sixth day, I’m happy to stay put.”