Hinch laments putting Michael Fulmer in tough spot in loss to Rays

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. – Lefty reliever Gregory Soto sauntered out to the field several hours before the game Saturday and had a leisurely game of catch and long toss with Kyle Funkhouser. The only unusual part of that scene was the presence of head athletic trainer Doug Teter.

But by all accounts, Soto escaped serious injury after he took a liner between his ring finger and pinky on his pitching hand Friday, a drive that left Manuel Margot’s bat at 99.9 mph and set in motion a three-run rally and the Rays’ dramatic 7-4, 10-inning win.

Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer

“Nothing is broken,” said manager AJ Hinch. “It’s pretty bruised, though, so we will see where it takes us.”

Hinch didn’t rule out Soto’s availability Saturday, but that seemed like a longshot.

The debate on Saturday morning, though, was Hinch’s rock-and-a-hard-place decision in the ninth inning when or if to pull Soto.

In hindsight, seeing Soto walk the next hitter, seeing him have no ability to spin his slider with a hand that had to still be stinging, if not numb, did Hinch regret not pulling him sooner?

“We make judgments on the results more than the process, especially from the outside looking in,” he said. “When it doesn’t work out, you question everything. If I had to do it over again, if you want the manager’s regret, it would be the lack of a path to success for Michael (Fulmer).

“If I was going to use him, use him right out of the gate. Make the ultra-conservative move and take Soto out of the game (right after Margot’s at-bat).”

Fulmer started to hurriedly warm up during Soto’s walk of No. 9 hitter Francisco Mejia. Hinch didn’t take Soto out until after he gave up a single to left-handed hitting Brandon Lowe. Fulmer stepped into a bases loaded, no-out situation.

But Soto, who was adamant he was OK to continue after taking the bullet off his hand, was just as upset at being pulled with the bases loaded.

“I trust my players, I believe in them,” Hinch said. “I think they are going to shoot me straight. I didn’t think that it would be that massive of an injury where I needed to step in and take him out.

"In hindsight, I wish I would have given Michael a better ramp to success. The bases loaded is not something I anticipated coming out of it.”

Talking about it the next day, Hinch wondered what might’ve happened if he stayed with Soto, even with the bases loaded. Although Soto would’ve had to navigate two dangerous right-handed hitters in a row, Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena.

“I believe in Gregory and I think he was fine and at the end of the day, he could’ve escaped or controlled that outing,” Hinch said. “But it was a dilemma. It can be difficult to grasp what the right move is and looking back, you always wish you could’ve done something different.

“I don’t know what the result would have been if Michael came in right at that point or if I left Soto in for the bases loaded against two left-handed pitching-killing right-handed hitters. Welcome to managing.”

The result was, Fulmer gave up a bloop, two-run single to Diaz and after a wild pitch, a game-tying sacrifice fly to Arozarena. Brett Phillips won it with a walk-off, three-run homer of Bryan Garcia in the 10th.

“I love that Gregory wanted to stay in,” Hinch said. “And I when I took the ball away from him, he stayed in the dugout to watch his teammates.”