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Tigers hope roller coaster smooths out after break

Rookie righty Fulmer, young slugger Castellanos among Detroit's bright spots from first half @beckjason

Brad Ausmus knows how fans feel about the Tigers' first half.

"It was a roller coaster," the manager said. "We had some stretches, losing seven in a row at one stretch. But yeah, we're still here."

Brad Ausmus knows how fans feel about the Tigers' first half.

"It was a roller coaster," the manager said. "We had some stretches, losing seven in a row at one stretch. But yeah, we're still here."

:: Midterm Report: Complete coverage ::

Detroit won six of its first eight games, then lost eight of its next 11 to fall under .500. A five-game winning streak at the end of April preceded a 1-10 skid, then 8-1, then 2-6, and onward.

Only once have the Tigers alternated wins and losses for more than four games. In the process, Detroit has teetered over and under .500, and much of the inconsistency has revolved around pitching.

Not until recently have the Tigers seemingly found consistency, putting together a solid three-week stretch with the exception of continued struggles against the division-leading Indians. Detroit closed out the first half with a 6-5 road trip against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Toronto, despite injuries to starters Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris. It leaves Ausmus optimistic heading into a crucial stretch in second half.

"Maybe we're just starting to figure out who we are," he said.

What was expected to be an injury fill-in stint for Michael Fulmer became a potential American League Rookie of the Year Award campaign. Nick Castellanos took a giant leap forward as a hitter, setting a career high in home runs by the season's midway point. Ian Kinsler defied his age and became the first Tigers second baseman with 15 home runs by the All-Star break since Damion Easley in 1998. Victor Martinez rebounded from his 2015 knee issue to become a power-hitting run producer again in the cleanup spot. Francisco Rodriguez shored up the closer's role.

Video: DET@TOR: Castellanos cranks a solo homer to center

Besides games against Cleveland? The starting staff beyond Fulmer proved inconsistent, from Zimmermann's midseason issues to Justin Verlander's struggles with the Indians, Mike Pelfrey's rough opening and Anibal Sanchez's diminished stuff. Even Norris battled inconsistency after opening the season on the DL with back issues. Aside from Rodriguez, Detroit's bullpen has also been in flux, with Mark Lowe relegated to mop-up work to fix his mechanics and Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy fighting their own early issues. Justin Upton's first season as a Tiger has seen hard contact, but many strikeouts.

A healthy Martinez remains a formidable hitter, and his left knee was much more of an issue than he let on last year. The same goes for Miguel Cabrera, who went nearly three-dozen swings without a miss in June before battling knee and back soreness near the break. … Assembling a bullpen isn't just about adding the right pitchers, but signing them at the right time. Relievers' fortunes can swerve wildly from one season to the next. … Maybe Upton shows there still is something about hitters transitioning from the National League to the AL.

Video: DET@CLE: Tigers drive in five runs in the 5th inning

Though Cabrera, Martinez and Castellanos all posted impressive numbers, Kinsler proved to be a sparkplug in the field and at the plate. He lead the Tigers in RBIs for much of the first half, while anchoring an improved infield defense.

Video: DET@TB: Kinsler hammers 200th career home run

Forget veteran favoritism and give credit to Fulmer, whose string of starts with one run or less allowed not only set a standard among rookies, but challenged records among pitchers of all experience levels. As inconsistent as the Tigers' rotation was, it would have been in shambles without Fulmer's work.

Video: DET@CLE: Fulmer holds Tribe to one earned through six

By many statistical standards, Fulmer is having a better rookie season than Verlander when he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award 10 years ago. For a kid who wasn't even a top-5 ranked prospect in the Mets' system, the 23-year-old right-hander has shattered expectations.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer