DETROIT -- The Tigers have a plan for conserving Michael Fulmer's innings. A fifth-inning exit Wednesday against the Mariners wasn't part of the plan.The way Fulmer was pitching, however, was a problem. The Tigers' bullpen, much maligned for the past month, became the solution."That's why I love this team," Fulmer
DETROIT -- The Tigers have a plan for conserving Michael Fulmer's innings. A fifth-inning exit Wednesday against the Mariners wasn't part of the plan.
The way Fulmer was pitching, however, was a problem. The Tigers' bullpen, much maligned for the past month, became the solution.
"That's why I love this team," Fulmer said after the Tigers' 5-1 win. "Everybody contributes. They picked me up big time tonight."
By retiring the final 14 batters, 4 2/3 perfect innings across four relievers, the bullpen picked up more than Fulmer. It gave the entire team a boost of confidence, and gave fans a sign of hope that a relief corps in transition could recapture its early-season stinginess.
Fulmer entered the game on a dominant roll, allowing one run in 33 innings over his last five starts. But he woke up Wednesday morning feeling under the weather. He felt good enough to pitch, but the issues extended into his outing, from lightheadedness to shortness of breath. He didn't want to use it an excuse.
"I should've done a better job of executing my pitches, get some quick innings in," he said, "but I tried to ease up a little bit, not overexert myself -- just a little shortness of breath, trying to catch my breath."
For four innings, he did a decent job of it. After a 22-pitch opening inning, he stranded two runners with a Kyle Seager groundout, then retired the Mariners in order from the second through the fourth. He headed into the fifth in decent shape against an M's lineup that was stacked with seven left-handed batters and a switch-hitter.
Still, manager Brad Ausmus said, "I could tell early on he wasn't very sharp, from the first inning. So we were kind of on high alert."
Back-to-back hit-by-pitches -- one to Norichika Aoki to load the bases, the other to Leonys Martin to plate the Mariners' first run -- sounded the alarm. With the heart of the lineup due up, Ausmus turned to his bullpen.
"To me, that could've been the turning point in the game," he said. "The way he was throwing, that being a big spot in the game, they're coming into the middle of their order, I just thought that was the time."
On came Kyle Ryan for his second middle-inning jam in three nights, this one inherited. Again, Ryan responded, striking out Franklin Gutierrez before inducing a Robinson Cano groundout on the next pitch.
With a 5-1 lead heading to the sixth, Ausmus went inning by inning. Ryan stayed on and retired the middle of the lineup in the sixth, including back-to-back strikeouts of Seager and Adam Lind. Shane Greene sent down the bottom of the lineup in the seventh, including a strikeout of red-hot Ketel Marte. Justin Wilson did the same to the top of the lineup in the eighth before Francisco Rodriguez took a four-run lead into the ninth and erased any suspense.
Total bullpen work: 4 2/3 innings, no hits, no walks, six strikeouts.
"It's nice to see them do well," Ausmus said. "The downside is the bullpen's been used quite a bit in this stretch of games where we haven't had an off-day. So it's a little bit of a balancing act."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.