Fulmer 'a different pitcher than what I was'

March 16th, 2021

left a bases-loaded jam on the mound as he exited with nobody out in the third inning of the Tigers' 7-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees on Tuesday. He then walked back to the clubhouse and left his frustrations in the weight room.

"I was frustrated as all get out," Fulmer said.

Maybe it was fitting. That weight room practically became Fulmer's second home as he rehabbed from surgeries -- ulnar transposition in his right elbow in 2017, right knee surgery in '18, then Tommy John surgery in '19.

Fulmer worked a ton in that room to get back to this point where he can pitch. Now he has to learn, on the mound, how to pitch with what he has.

The 97-98 mph fastball that powered Fulmer to the American League Rookie of the Year Award five years ago is not there. It could come back as he moves along in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, when many pitchers who undergo the procedure begin to feel more like their pre-injury selves. Until it does, and in case it doesn't, he needs to lean more on changeups, sliders and curveballs.

"Let's be honest, I'm a different pitcher than what I was a few years ago," Fulmer said. "There's no denying that, and I'm trying to learn kind of on the fly. Just trying to learn sequencing and the ins and outs and ups and downs of different quadrants of the strike zone that I'm usually not working on."

It's the same transition other Detroit pitchers have faced. His neighbor in the Tigers' clubhouse, Daniel Norris, made the transition a couple years ago and developed a nasty changeup for an out pitch. But Fulmer is doing it while trying to hold onto a rotation spot in a Detroit camp cluttered with potential starters.

"I feel like I'm competing for a job," Fulmer said. "We've got so much depth in the starting pitching department. I want to be able to earn a spot. Nothing's given in this organization."

Fulmer stuck to that mix Tuesday through a Yankees onslaught. Compared to the three home runs the Blue Jays slugged off him last week, Fulmer was nicked and cut to his demise with four singles. But he also contributed to his fate.

Luke Voit didn't have to swing the bat for his first run, hit by a pitch before advancing on a wild pitch and an Aaron Hicks groundout. Clint Frazier plated him with a soft single up the middle. A bloop single and a walk loaded the bases before Fulmer used a changeup to retire Mike Tauchman.

Fulmer retired the Yankees in order in the second inning, striking out Rob Brantly on a curveball-changeup combination.

"Today was all about different sequencing, throwing the curveball and the changeup behind it and trying to mix that way," said Fulmer. "I've never really pitched that way, and [pitching coach Chris] Fetter's done an amazing job talking about all this stuff."

The third inning turned against Fulmer on a leadoff single that arguably could've been a strikeout. His 1-2 changeup to Voit looked on the corner, according to Statcast, but plate home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn ruled it a ball.

Voit fouled off a slider and took a changeup in the dirt to run the count full before Fulmer challenged him over the plate with a slider. Voit lined it into left for a single with a 108.2 mph exit velocity.

"I don't think I let it get to me," Fulmer said. "Obviously I thought I made a good pitch, and that's all you can control. But the stuff afterwards, I could've controlled a lot better."

Fulmer stuck to the bottom of the zone in a five-pitch walk to Hicks. He tried elevating a 1-2 fastball to Frazier, who sent it back up the middle for a single to load the bases.

Fulmer stayed down and away on five pitches to Gio Urshela, hitting the corner on one but missing on the rest for a run-scoring walk. Fulmer changed speeds to put Derek Dietrich in a 1-2 count, but he yanked a fastball and hit him to end his outing.

Voit's single was the only ball in play off Fulmer with a harder exit velocity than the 98.7 mph the Blue Jays averaged against him five days earlier. But Fulmer threw just 32 of 63 pitches for strikes, a ratio that would've improved only slightly with borderline calls.

"I need to do a better job of getting back in the strike zone with quality strikes, and pitches that he's going to call strikes," Fulmer said.