DETROIT -- If Michael Fulmer needed any reminder of who teams could be asking the Tigers about as the July non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the watchful eyes of eight or so scouts behind the plate provided it. And if those scouts needed a refresher about Fulmer's season, the Angels provided
DETROIT -- If Michael Fulmer needed any reminder of who teams could be asking the Tigers about as the July non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the watchful eyes of eight or so scouts behind the plate provided it. And if those scouts needed a refresher about Fulmer's season, the Angels provided it in Tuesday's 9-2 Tigers loss at Comerica Park.
While general manager Al Avila deliberates the franchise-shaping question about whether to build around his 25-year-old All-Star or deal him to acquire an elite prospect to further the rebuild, Fulmer is facing the first prolonged struggles of his brief, but successful, big league career.
"I'm just kind of embarrassed the way I'm pitching right now, because everything feels good," Fulmer said. "That was my goal this year, was to stay healthy. That's it. I need to do a better job of trying to get back to old form and going out getting deep into games and giving my team a chance to win."
Fulmer made it back from surgery that repositioned the ulnar nerve in his right elbow to eliminate the bouts of numbness that hampered him last year. He insists his arm feels good, but he's searching for the way he used to throw. Fulmer thinks he needs to get back to his sinker, the workhorse pitch he road to his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016, and pitch to quick contact for outs. However, Fulmer is struggling to keep his pitches down in the strike zone, and the contact he's yielding is not soft.
With five earned runs on six hits over just 3 1/3 innings, Fulmer's ERA rose from 4.08 to 4.60. Just as concerning are the walks, four of them Tuesday, and three or more in four of his last five outings.
"I feel like I'm trying to miss more bats right now instead of missing more barrels," Fulmer said. "I think that's the ultimate goal is to fill up the strike zone and make them put the ball in play, hard-hit or not. I think I need to be down in the zone, command the fastball and go from there."
Fulmer overcame those issues when he held down the Twins for a lone run over 5 2/3 innings last Wednesday for his first win since April 7. His three walks in that game, however, suggested he still had work to do on his command. On Tuesday, he struggled to locate his fastball, and the Angels took advantage.
Fulmer threw two- or four-seam fastballs for 50 of his 77 pitches, but drew just six called strikes and two swings-and-misses. The Angels put some of those balls in play and fouled off many of the others, lengthening at-bats.
"He was misfiring out there, and every time he made a mistake, they made him pay for it early," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There was nothing smooth about his outing tonight. He had to fight just about everything."
That included his catcher, as Fulmer frequently shook off James McCann.
"I think we were a little off sometimes, but that's probably on me more than him," Fulmer said. "He does his research. He does his scouting reports. Tonight, we just weren't on the same page. There's no knock against him. He put down the right finger at the time. It's more of a confidence thing for me, not trusting a couple pitches."
After Fulmer retired the top of the lineup in order in a 10-pitch opening inning, the Angels taxed the righty for 34 pitches in a four-run second. The big blow came when former Tiger Ian Kinsler turned on a changeup from his ex-teammate and sent it deep to left for a three-run homer.
"My offspeed stuff just wasn't there," Fulmer said.
A rundown at second base and a double play got Fulmer out of a potential bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third, but a Luis Valbuena solo homer over the out-of-town scoreboard and two walks chased Fulmer in the fourth. Valbuena added a second solo shot off Buck Farmer in a three-run eighth to put the game away.
The only Tigers' runs came on solo homers from JaCoby Jones and Jeimer Candelario.
Tuesday marked Fulmer's third multi-homer performance in 11 starts this season, something he did only once in 25 outings last year.
Candelario, Nicholas Castellanos and the rest of the Tigers' lineup will step to the plate against Angels rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani as the series continues Wednesday with a 7:10 p.m. ET matchup at Comerica Park. Mike Fiers (4-3, 4.78) is scheduled to start for Detroit.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.