Amidst talk of limits, Michael Fulmer just keeps pitching
The debate continues of whether and how the Tigers should watch Fulmer’s innings. Fulmer’s response is to keep delivering innings worth watching.
“He’s making it increasingly difficult to keep his innings down,” manager Brad Ausmus deadpanned.
Games like Sunday are why Ausmus and Tigers management are having to think outside of innings on limits with regards to Fulmer’s workload. This is the same organization where Rick Porcello pitched eight innings only once as a rookie and didn’t get a shot at a complete game until 2014, his final season in Detroit. But when Michael Fulmer finished his eighth inning Sunday, Ausmus said, he had no thoughts of taking him out.
Why would he? Fulmer had gone eight innings in just 94 pitches. He not only had a good chance at his first professional shutout, he had an outside chance at a Maddux, a shutout in less than 100 pitches.
“After I came out of the eighth, I just did my normal thing and sat down,” Fulmer said, “and Brad never came and got me. So the mindset was just [on] staying focused and go back out for the ninth and try to get a win for the team.”
Said Ausmus: “I didn’t even think twice about it.”
He was not thinking about it, by all indications, when Nomar Mazara singled to lead off the inning on Fulmer’s 99th pitch.
“I looked back at the dugout to see if Brad was coming out, and he wasn’t,” Fulmer admitted. “So I was like, ‘All right, let’s get a ground-ball double play here. That’ll save a few pitches.’ Wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t make things any easier by falling behind I think on every guy that inning. But the defense played great.”
Tyler Collins caught Shin-Soo Choo’s line drive for the second out, but the key was Ian Desmond, who had a 3-0 count and the chance to push Fulmer further when Fulmer got back into the at-bat and put him away with a slider to chase.
“I get to 3-0 and I’m [thinking], ‘Well, he’s probably not swinging,'” Fulmer said. “I just threw strike one. He took the two-seam down and the umpire called it a strike. From there, he wasn’t going to go down looking.”
Ausmus wasn’t taking him after the single, but he said later he had in mind that Carlos Beltran — the fourth batter of the inning — was going to be his last. At 110 pitches, Fulmer needed two more to retire him.
That put Fulmer at 120 innings in Detroit this season. Add in his Triple-A Toledo work before the call-up, and he’s at 135 1/3 innings combined this season. He threw 124 2/3 innings last year.
Now comes the aftermath. Fulmer’s next turn in the rotation comes Friday against the Red Sox, whose team president, Dave Dombrowski, pulled off the trade to bring Fulmer to Detroit. After that, he’ll likely get a longer rest.
“We have an off-day coming up [next] Monday, and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll do something in terms of moving where he pitches,” Ausmus said. “[Pitching coach] Rich Dubee will sit down and look at it and map it out.
“We’re going to have to do something, push him back, skip him, something, at some point. If he keeps pitching like this, we might have to do it more than once, because we’d like to have him around all the way through.”
The trick with that, the Tigers say, is that the innings are coming so easily for him. He’s averaging 15.14 pitches per inning, the 13th-lowest average among qualified Major League starters. He averaged 12.4 pitches per inning Sunday.
“Like I said before, we don’t really have a hard cap,” Ausmus said. “I think his body type could handle a little bit more of an increase than a normal guy could. And again, I know he threw 112 pitches, but really, he doesn’t have very stressful innings very often. He’s usually pretty low pitch count. There’s something to be said for that.”
Said Fulmer: “All I know is I feel good right now. I can’t control the future. I don’t know how I’m going to feel in the future. I could feel this good at 200 innings, who knows, but all I can do is control the present and keep pitching every fifth day and hopefully staying healthy every fifth game.”