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Fulmer back on track for Tigers with 5 innings

Right-hander had been slowed by elbow soreness this month
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer thought pitching coach Chris Bosio was heading over to tell him he had a good afternoon after the top of the fourth inning Monday. He had thrown 71 pitches -- his high pitch count for the spring -- and had worked through some trouble.

Much to Fulmer's pleasant surprise, Bosio had another idea when he approached him in the dugout.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer thought pitching coach Chris Bosio was heading over to tell him he had a good afternoon after the top of the fourth inning Monday. He had thrown 71 pitches -- his high pitch count for the spring -- and had worked through some trouble.

Much to Fulmer's pleasant surprise, Bosio had another idea when he approached him in the dugout.

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"Bosio comes up to me and says, 'All right, we're going to just start off with changeups, just slow [Alex] Presley's bat down,' this and that," Fulmer recalled. "And I'm like, 'I thought you were coming to shake my hand.'"

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Three batters later, Fulmer had the five-inning performance he wanted, with 83 pitches thrown in the process. It essentially put him back on his normal count for his next-to-last start of camp, making up for lost time from his bout with muscular soreness behind his right elbow this month.

"I felt great," Fulmer said. "Everything kind of felt normal, just building pitch count up again. I'm sure next outing I'll do the same thing. I'll hit that 80 mark, and then the last inning I'll be a little tired. But that's what you have to do during the season, too. I was happy with the way everything went."

Fulmer allowed two runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. His 54 strikes included several sliders at 84-85 mph, slower than the power slider he has been throwing for most of his career. It was the one after-effect from his elbow soreness, and it was a mechanical adjustment more than an injury reaction.

Tigers Spring Training info

"That's a slider," Fulmer said. "The elbow inflammation, I told you guys I thought I was throwing my slider a little different way, trying to get more depth on it. I was doing it the wrong way, and I was kind of hyperextending my elbow, which led to the elbow inflammation. So I kind of stopped throwing it that way, and then Bosio and [bullpen coach] Rick Anderson went up to me and said this is what you have to do.

"If it's in the 84-86 [mph] range, I think that's perfect for me. It's a little bigger break, and it paid off today. That was the best I've seen it."

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Fulmer on new manager, season

The pitch acts more like an offspeed pitch thanks to the velocity difference, but also looks like a changeup when he's releasing the ball. It essentially bridges the difference between his old slider and a more traditional curveball.

Fulmer will have likely one more start this spring, stretching out close to 100 pitches. Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said it would "probably be a safe assumption" that Fulmer will pitch the second game of the regular season -- March 31 -- against the Pirates following Jordan Zimmermann's Opening Day assignment.

Fiers not overly worried about back
Mike Fiers isn't calling it an injury issue. If his lower back discomfort popped up during the season rather than this spring, he said, it would not sideline him.

"If we were in-season and my start was coming up, I'm pitching," he said Monday morning. "But right now, it's not worth pushing, so just taking it slow."

Fiers had been pitching through it this spring and struggling, having allowed 12 runs on 10 hits over 11 1/3 innings with eight walks and seven strikeouts. With Fiers' pitching woes becoming more pronounced in his last start, the Tigers decided to hold him back until they can address the back.

"You want to be 100 percent every time and ready to go," Fiers said, "but things happen, so you just have to take it for what it is. I've been through stuff like this before. Obviously it's frustrating, but they don't want me out there hurting myself and making it worse. But we still have a lot of time. Hopefully I'm back out there in a couple days."

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Fiers on becoming a Tiger

Fiers said he first tweaked his back while lifting weights in the offseason. He's considered day-to-day for now.

"You don't have to force it," Fiers said, "so since I'm not out there doesn't mean I'm injured. It just means I'm taking it a little bit slower than usual. We have that luxury in spring."

Gardenhire called Fiers' situation a back strain, but didn't seem concerned about the timetable.

"Everybody's read everything, and there's nothing major here," Gardenhire said. "It's just back strain/tightness, and now they're working on him every morning trying to get that loosened up where we can go to work. How long that's going to be, I don't know."

Spring Training audition
While Spring Training is winding down for the Tigers, it's gearing up for Dan Hasty, who will get a chance to fulfill a dream and broadcast two games this week for the team he grew up following.

Hasty, the play-by-play voice of the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps, will work alongside Jim Price on the call for the Tigers' Grapefruit League games Tuesday and Friday, giving Dan Dickerson a couple of days off. He was preparing on Monday, laptop and notes spread across the counter next to the Tigers' radio booth.

It's an exciting time for Hasty, who grew up in nearby Sterling Heights, Mich., and listened to Price on broadcasts as a kid. Tuesday's 1:05 p.m. ET broadcast will be available via Gameday Audio and in Detroit on AM 1270.

Quick hits
• Gardenhire said he talked with his team about the importance of covering the bases and maintaining concentration after complaining about miscues in Sunday's loss to the Rays.

"I was a little fired up," he said, "and you just get it off your chest, drink a little coffee to fire your heart back up, and then you relax. Just turn up the volume a little."

• Blaine Hardy made his first appearance of the spring and fired a scoreless inning on 11 pitches, erasing a leadoff single with a ground-ball double play.

"It almost feels like it hasn't been as long as it has since I'd thrown off a mound," said Hardy, who was sidelined by inflammation in his left shoulder. He's expected to pitch again Thursday.

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