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Fulmer perseveres after yielding big flies

All-Star pitcher's homerless streak ends, but team backs strong start with rally
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer went to the Tigers last week with the idea of moving up in the rotation to pitch Tuesday against the Giants. He wanted two starts before the All-Star break to help the Tigers, whether he made the All-Star Game or not.

Fulmer worried he had blown it when Brandon Crawford's seventh-inning home run tied the game. Once the Tigers rallied to take the lead back, there was no question he'd return for the eighth.

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DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer went to the Tigers last week with the idea of moving up in the rotation to pitch Tuesday against the Giants. He wanted two starts before the All-Star break to help the Tigers, whether he made the All-Star Game or not.

Fulmer worried he had blown it when Brandon Crawford's seventh-inning home run tied the game. Once the Tigers rallied to take the lead back, there was no question he'd return for the eighth.

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"Oh, he's earned it," manager Brad Ausmus said after the 5-3 win. "He's shown he's one of the best pitchers on this team. His pitch count was still low, he still looked good, so kinda let it roll. Truth is, he probably could've gone out for the ninth."

Video: SF@DET: Ausmus on All-Star Michael Fulmer's start

If closer Justin Wilson weren't so well-rested, weren't on a roll lately, Fulmer might have gotten another shot at the complete game he just missed his previous start. Still, pitching 23 2/3 quality innings over his past three starts with a 2.32 ERA is plenty of work.

"Just tried for a quick eighth and let J-Willie do his thing," Fulmer said.

Video: SF@DET: Wilson retires Crawford to earn the save

As Justin Verlander tries to find the answer to Cleveland's lineup, as Jordan Zimmermann tries to regain the bite he had on his slider a few weeks ago, Fulmer has become the workhorse in the Tigers rotation. It's not just about being on his game, it's about being able to make the adjustments when he isn't.

Fulmer fell behind on 2-0 counts to his first three batters Tuesday, and he paid for it when Hunter Pence sent a 2-0 fastball out of the park. It was the first home run since April 29 off Fulmer, a 73 2/3-inning span that was the longest active homerless streak in the Majors. He battled through hitters' counts his first trip through the Giants' order and into his second -- avoiding another long ball despite three warning-track drives -- before retiring 11 in a row from the third inning into the seventh.

Video: SF@DET: Pence crushes solo homer to open the scoring

"This is about the third or fourth time -- and it was more early in the season -- he had a little trouble with his command at the beginning of the game," Ausmus said. "But he's able to make the adjustment, and then he finds his groove."

It's the kind of adjustment other young Detroit starters are working to learn, including Daniel Norris.

"I did some towel drills in the dugout and loosened up a little bit more," Fulmer said. "I finally started finding the bottom of the zone. A lot of hard contact today, but the defense did great."

Fulmer was cruising into the seventh with a 3-1 lead when he missed on back-to-back sliders with one out, putting Brandon Belt into a 2-1 count. His double to the wall in right-center brought up Crawford, who saw three consecutive offspeed pitches and pounced when Fulmer left the third over the plate.

Video: SF@DET: Crawford crushes a game-tying, two-run homer

"Hanging changeup," Fulmer said. "He didn't miss it."

Fulmer lost two 1-0 games and a 3-0 decision over his previous seven starts, a victim of a dearth of run support. Now that he had runs, he couldn't quite hold it, suffering his first two-homer outing since last August. But it gave Detroit's offense a chance to pick him up.

"It doesn't feel good when you waste one of his good outings, and we've wasted a few of them," said Justin Upton, who singled home two runs in the bottom of the seventh to restore the lead. "To see him continue to give us a chance to win, for us to get one for him was nice."

Video: SF@DET: Upton laces a two-out, two-run single

Back out for the eighth, Fulmer made it look easy, retiring the top of the Giants' order on grounders.

"A win's a win," Fulmer said. "Doesn't matter how you get it."

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