MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Fulmer was still struggling with jet lag from the time difference between Seattle, where the Tigers' road trip began last week, and the Twin Cities, where he struggled with three nights of bad sleep. He woke up Wednesday morning feeling sluggish, and his warmup pitches in the bullpen didn't leave him feeling much better.
"I woke up this morning not feeling great," Fulmer said. "I got to the field and my warmups were crap. I was telling guys there's a difference. You go out and have a bad bullpen before the game but feel good, usually bad bullpen means good outing. Today I got out there with a bad bullpen, arm felt heavy, just one of those days."
As Fulmer's 110th pitch of the day hit 97 mph during his sixth-inning battle with Logan Morrison, it was indeed a day, just not the kind Fulmer expected. It was a day Fulmer stepped up as an ace when the Tigers needed one, delivering 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 Detroit win over the Twins at Target Field.
Niko Goodrum's go-ahead two-run homer off Kyle Gibson (1-3) haunted his old team, but it was Fulmer's day. Even if the All-Star right-hander didn't feel energetic, he gave the Tigers a lift out of a five-game skid that included a lethargic loss Tuesday night.
"We needed it," Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Tough road trip."
Fulmer's first win since April 7 was a labor for him. Though he came out firing fastballs at an aggressive Twins lineup, he didn't have his best command, resulting in three walks, three other three-ball counts, three early outs with 100-plus mph exit velocities and an accelerating pitch count. Yet Fulmer didn't allow a hit from Eddie Rosario's first-inning single until Byron Buxton's one-out single in the fifth, and yielded just three singles for the game.
Fulmer (2-3) kept Minnesota's hitters off-balance with a mix of pitches, including a slider that was slower than usual but had more of a drop. His 15 swinging strikes were evenly spread between his two- and four-seam fastballs, slider and changeup.
It wasn't pretty from Fulmer's eyes, particularly early, but it was effective. He improved to 4-0 with a 3.04 ERA for his career against Minnesota, including 3-0 at Target Field.
"We got him in the first inning, but he did a really good job of settling back in, throwing strikes," said James Dozier, whose leadoff ground-rule double into the center-field padding set up the opening run. "We kind of got to him at the end a little bit. He didn't get through the sixth, but at the same time, he still looked good.
"He's a front-line rotation guy. You know what you're going to get out of him. He competes and has good stuff. It's unfortunate we had some opportunities with guys on base, but we couldn't come through."
Fulmer hadn't felt like that front-line starter at times during a seven-game winless streak since his April 7 victory in Chicago, but Wednesday's work felt like an outing from Justin Verlander's resume, pitching better than he felt. As teams scout Fulmer ahead of July's non-waiver Trade Deadline and debate whether he could make a difference in a playoff run, performances like Wednesday matter, regardless of whether the Tigers end up seriously entertaining offers.
Fulmer's 112 pitches tied for the second-highest total of his career, yet he was still relatively strong. His two-out walk to Morrison chased him in the sixth, but Louis Coleman's four outs bridged the gap to setup man Joe Jimenez and closer Shane Greene's 11th save.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Good home run: Goodrum, a former Twins Draft pick who made his Major League debut with them as a September callup last year, was 0-for-8 with five strikeouts for the series against his old teammates as part of an 0-for-14 slump when he stepped to the plate in the fourth inning. Gibson put him in an 0-2 count, but Goodrum shrugged off two pitches well out of the zone before pouncing on a fastball over the plate, sending it into the right-field seats. His fifth home run of the year tied him for the team lead.
"I'm just playing the game, just another team," said Goodrum, who doubled and scored an insurance run off JaCoby Jones' RBI knock in the ninth. "It happens to be a team I was with for eight years, but I didn't add anything extra into the game. You have to pitch, I have to hit, and I ran into some balls today. That's all it was for me."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Fulmer's third pitch of the game ended up nestled into the padding on the center-field wall, courtesy of Dozier. The 398-foot drive cleared speedy center fielder Leonys Martin's head and appeared headed for a bounce, but instead didn't move once it hit the top of the fence.
"I was waiting to play it off the wall," Martin said, "but it never came back. Crazy."
HE SAID IT
"I told myself I was going to talk, and I talked. I used every nickname I had." -- Gardenhire, who blamed himself for what he noted was a quiet dugout during Tuesday's loss
The Tigers are off Thursday before opening a 12-game homestand with a 7:10 p.m. ET game against the White Sox on Friday at Comerica Park. Mike Fiers (4-3, 4.57 ERA) will try to repeat his 1-0 win over Chicago from April when he takes the mound opposite Reynaldo Lopez (1-3, 2.98).