Tigers' Fulmer hopes 'calmer' mechanics will keep him healthy rest of year
Minneapolis — Adrenalin can be your best friend, especially in high-leverage situations when you need to reach back and get a little extra heat on your fastball.
The thing about adrenalin, though, it wears off. And sometimes there’s a toll to pay for the extra stress you’ve put on your body while the adrenalin was coursing through your body.
Tigers reliever Michael Fulmer can tell you all about that. He was activated Tuesday after spending a month on the injured list with a neck strain caused, he believes, by the extra exertion that comes with trying to close out baseball games.
“This one was more just trying to get used to the bullpen role,” he said before the game Tuesday. “Just like the inflammation in my shoulder. This one was just me getting carried away with the adrenalin and maybe trying to overthrow a little bit, and I got my neck out of whack.”
It almost seemed like the baseball gods were taunting him. He’d fought his way back from major knee and elbow surgery that cost him two years of his career and he had seemingly found a vital niche as one of three late-inning, high-leverage relievers manager AJ Hinch could use to create favorable match-ups late in games.
The velocity on his sinker and four-seam fastball was back up to 95 mph on average and touching 97 and 98 when he needed it. His slider, too, which became his dominant pitch, was ranging in velocity between 91 and 93 mph.
Then the pain in his neck — literal and figurative — flared and wouldn’t relent.
“Any injury is hard to go through,” he said. “Trust me, you guys (media), the fan base, I know it sucks for everybody. But it really sucks for me. I struggled with it. With the injuries I’ve had, all I want to do is come up here and help the team win and be able to pitch healthy an effectively.
“But stuff like this keeps happening and it’s frustrating. It really is.”
Besides daily physical therapy, Fulmer said he’s also tried to adjust his mechanics to alleviate some of the strain his motion was putting on his neck.
“It’s all mechanical and we’ve worked on it this last month,” he said. “Just trying to do different things to keep it calm while not losing my stuff. We did a good job. I hope it pays off.”
According to reports from his two rehab outings with Toledo, his velocity was back up where it had been before the injury, maybe a tick up. His slider was hitting 94 mph. But, understandably, his command was spotty.
“I am trying to do all I can to stay on the field and stay healthy,” he said. “We’ve looked at video and made some mechanical tweaks trying to find the right thing that I am able to do in the middle of a season.”
Bigger, more far-reaching adjustments typically are made during the offseason when you have an entire spring training to work the kinks out. Fulmer hopes he’s found a temporary remedy that will allow him to finish the season with no more interruptions.
“We came away feeling confident he’s ready to go,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s been a key part of our bullpen and we’re anxious to get him back again.”
Hinch said he’s not sure if he will use Fulmer on back-to-back days or for multiple innings initially.
“He won’t like that,” Hinch said. “He doesn’t want to be governed. He just wants to go pitch as often as he can.”
Lefty Ian Krol was designated for assignment to make room for Fulmer.
Robbie Grossman’s pinch-hit, game-tying, two-run home run in the ninth inning Monday was impressive on its own merits. But hearing the backstory to the at-bat makes it more so.
Hinch said he told Grossman, who was given the start off, that he might be hitting right-handed against Twins’ lefty reliever Taylor Rogers if the Tigers could get a man on in the ninth. So Grossman went into the cage in the eighth inning and starting swinging right-handed to get ready.
Then Rogers sprained his left middle finger on his fifth pitch and was removed from the game. Right-hander Alex Colome was summoned. Which meant Grossman, if he pinch-hit, would be doing so left-handed.
“I’m not sure Robbie ever took a left-handed swing prior to Rogers’ injury,” Hinch said. “We talked about if a runner was on base, Grossman would hit for Harold Castro. If nobody was on, then Castro would’ve hit because Robbie wouldn’t have represented the tying run.
“His homer was an example of the reason you send him up to bat — to tie the game.”
Around the horn
Matthew Boyd (elbow) is expect to throw off a mound for the first time in his rehab process this weekend, Hinch said.
... Five of Gregory Soto's 42 pitches night Monday rang the radar gun at 100 mph or faster. He became the first Tigers pitcher to do that since Bruce Rondon threw eight pitches in triple-digits on July 26, 2016.
Tigers at Twins
► First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Target Field, Minneapolis
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► RHP Wily Peralta (3-2, 2.56), Tigers: He didn’t have his usual command against the Royals in his last start and he paid for it. A three-run homer by Ryan O’Hearn was the big blow. Carlos Santana also homered — off Peralta’s split-change. It was the first and only hit he’s allowed on that pitch in 35 plate appearances.
► LHP J.A. Happ (5-5, 6.14): This will be the third time he’s faced the Tigers in three weeks. Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario each homered and knocked in three runs against him at Comerica Park on July 18. Right-handed hitters in general have been tormenting Happ this year — .302/.351/.586 and hitting 20 of the 21 homers he’s allowed.