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Fulmer tinkers with slider in scoreless tune-up

Right-hander drops final spring ERA to 2.12 with sharp outing vs. Braves
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer headed to the mound for his final spring tuneup Sunday looking to stretch his pitch count close to the century mark. The Braves, who broke camp Sunday and were bound for Atlanta, stepped into the box at Joker Marchant Stadium looking to head to the airport.

In that sense, the resulting seven scoreless innings from Fulmer on two hits, an infield single and a bunt, in the Tigers' 10-3 win were not a surprise. And yet, the All-Star right-hander came away with things he wanted to work on ahead of his regular-season debut on Saturday against the Pirates at Comerica Park.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer headed to the mound for his final spring tuneup Sunday looking to stretch his pitch count close to the century mark. The Braves, who broke camp Sunday and were bound for Atlanta, stepped into the box at Joker Marchant Stadium looking to head to the airport.

In that sense, the resulting seven scoreless innings from Fulmer on two hits, an infield single and a bunt, in the Tigers' 10-3 win were not a surprise. And yet, the All-Star right-hander came away with things he wanted to work on ahead of his regular-season debut on Saturday against the Pirates at Comerica Park.

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"I feel like I didn't do much today," Fulmer said. "The defense was awesome. I was just trying to throw strikes, let them put it in play, had a few web gems. …

"The only real negative was the slider. I couldn't throw it for a strike, but they were all down. It wasn't like I was hanging them and they were spinning and didn't move. They were all pretty sharp, and they had some good takes on it, too. I had a couple of chase sliders that finished just out of the strike zone in the dirt, and they didn't bite at them. You have to tip your cap. But everything was down."

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Fulmer is trying to build on two very good seasons to begin his career, not repeat them. That explains why he would take a close look at his slider, a pitch that has worked for him, and try to find improvements. He has been tinkering with it all spring, and he might do it some more with an extra day to prepare for his start.

The slider has been a very good secondary pitch for Fulmer so far in his career. He threw 644 of them in his rookie season two years ago and garnered 97 swing-and-misses, according to Statcast™. Opponents hit just .207 against it with a .317 slugging percentage and four home runs. Though Fulmer used it less often last season, the results were similar: 81 swing-and-misses out of 529 pitches, with a .209 average and .322 slugging percentage allowed.

Video: ATL@DET: Fulmer catches Adam looking for first K

"You're never satisfied with anything," Fulmer said. "You're always going to try to keep working at it. I think I've changed the slider grip a few times now, not that it was bad, but just trying to find that one that's super-comfortable and still does what I want it to do."

The change isn't drastic, just a shift of a finger a little further up the seams. The impact is more movement and ideally a better comfort level for his elbow following surgery to shift his ulnar nerve and alleviate recurring numbness.

Video: ATL@DET: Candelario robs Suzuki with a nice stop

"My slider before was a little shorter, a little sharper, harder," Fulmer said. "And now it's getting a lot more tilt, and a lot more depth on it. It's just kind of realigning my sights, but when your slider's down, you can't really argue with it. You'd rather work down to up, rather than up to down. Because if you're hanging sliders, they're going to hit them a long way."

Opponents haven't hit much of anything hard off Fulmer this spring, with two homers among the 12 hits against him over 17 innings. A fifth-inning fly ball from Lane Adams took Leonys Martin to the warning track in center field before making a highlight running catch over his shoulder. That was off a 95-mph fastball; he threw a handful at 96 on Sunday.

Video: ATL@DET: Martin hustles to retire Adams in the 5th

The slider didn't garner much contact, but didn't attract many swings either. The movement, he said, was encouraging.

"I wasn't yanking them," he said. "I just didn't start them high enough. But they had great depth."

If Fulmer can get that movement in the chillier conditions of Michigan next week, he'll be happy. But he won't necessarily be satisfied.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer