DETROIT -- The last time Michael Fulmer faced the Royals, they took advantage of three first-inning errors, he started pitching for strikeouts and Kansas City sent him to the worst start of his career. That was five days ago.Fulmer's first pitch of the rematch ended up in the left-field seats
DETROIT -- The last time Michael Fulmer faced the Royals, they took advantage of three first-inning errors, he started pitching for strikeouts and Kansas City sent him to the worst start of his career. That was five days ago.
Fulmer's first pitch of the rematch ended up in the left-field seats of Comerica Park Tuesday night, putting the Royals ahead for good in a 3-1 Tigers defeat. This time, though, Fulmer recovered for four consecutive strikeouts, six on the night over eight quality innings and some of his best stuff of the season.
Different outing, better stuff, same result. This one was more familiar, a low-scoring defeat and his sixth loss in a quality start this season. But it's the first time Fulmer has lost to the same opponent in back-to-back starts in his young Major League career.
"I try to lock every team down," Fulmer said. "Obviously, this is two times in the past week where [Danny] Duffy's been better than I have. I've worked on my things, but I'm just not quite there."
Even so, he wasn't far off, both in stuff and strategy.
Fulmer admitted last Thursday that he found himself pitching for strikeouts, a departure from the efficient success that led him to eight innings or more in three of his previous four outings. He tired after a long first inning, challenged hitters, left fastballs up and compounded the defensive errors with pitching ones, leading to a homer by Eric Hosmer, a two-run double from Brandon Moss and a third-inning exit.
Fulmer went back to his old mindset Tuesday, keeping pitches down. But he also worked on his mechanics, trying to get the movement back on his two-seamer and the bite back on his slider.
"The things I worked on showed tonight," Fulmer said. "I worked on getting the ball down in the zone, especially my sinker, which made my slider and changeup more effective. I told [catcher James McCann] to give me a lower target, kind of around his feet. He did a great job of setting up tonight."
Whit Merrifield jumped Fulmer's first-pitch fastball up and in, sending it out for a leadoff homer. Fulmer struck out Kansas City's next four hitters on sliders, three of them after 0-2 counts.
Out of 108 pitches, Fulmer threw 31 sliders according to Statcast™. Royals hitters swung and missed on 11 of them. By contrast, Fulmer had eight swings-and-misses out of 70 total pitches in their previous meeting.
"Slider was the best it's been all year," Fulmer said. "Had actual downward tilt. Struck out the first four guys, the first four outs of the game, with sliders in roughly the same spot. So obviously, just by swings it's telling me it's got late action on it."
By not trying for strikeouts, he got six of them. He also faced just three three-ball counts in the outing, none of them leading to walks, only one leading to a hit.
He couldn't get the win, but he got some consolation that he could master this lineup again.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.