KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The first sign of something different with Michael Fulmer in his first starting assignment of the spring Friday against the Astros were his opening five pitches, all of which were out of the strike zone. The next sign was the first strike he threw, a fastball he
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The first sign of something different with Michael Fulmer in his first starting assignment of the spring Friday against the Astros were his opening five pitches, all of which were out of the strike zone. The next sign was the first strike he threw, a fastball he fired to first base on a pickoff play.
Things didn't get easier for him from there, but he didn't have much longer to go.
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"I don't think anything changed physically," Fulmer said after his three-run inning in the Tigers' 10-4 loss to the Astros on Friday. "I think it was more of a mental thing. All I can say is I don't have any excuses. Walks will kill you, and 0-1 hanging changeups to [Colby] Rasmus will kill you, too."
Rasmus' three-run homer was the crushing blow, but the runners that scored off it were self-inflicted for Fulmer, who walked three of the seven batters he faced. The home run was the only hit allowed in Fulmer's only inning of work, a 35-pitch test against a potent Major League lineup that saw Fulmer throw some decent changeups but struggle to command his fastball and scrap his slider for its problems.
While manager Brad Ausmus didn't rule out Fulmer as a reliever, the Tigers began the process of stretching out their top prospect on Friday, one day after general manager Al Avila talked with reporters about bullpen depth at camp.
Fulmer started in the slot Anibal Sanchez will most likely fill once he joins the rotation. Sanchez, who has missed two weeks working back from triceps inflammation, threw a simulated game on Friday, but Ausmus indicated Sanchez could make his first start Wednesday in a Minor League camp game. That could leave another start for Fulmer with a higher pitch limit -- and likely more efficiency with the pitches he has.
The Tigers could have a decision to make from there, to stretch out Fulmer in Minors camp or keep him in big league camp a little while longer in some sort of role.
"He's preparing to be a starter," Ausmus explained, "but like I said early on, it would be a little bit of a long shot for him to make the big league team as a starter. I think it's more realistic as a reliever."
"Obviously the one goal is to get to the big leagues, and that's anyway, anyhow," Fulmer said. "So whatever the team needs me to do, I'm going to do with it, whether it's to develop more or put me in there. Doesn't matter."
Fulmer was more focused on his pitches than his role. To that point, he said he struggled trying to tweak his warmup routine, with less long-tossing in the outfield before warming up on the mound in the bullpen.
"Obviously my first two appearances were out of the 'pen," he said. "First start since last August, [I was] trying new things preparation-wise before the game. Felt good, felt fine, felt like all my stuff was there, just couldn't put the ball in the zone today."
Fulmer walked Jose Altuve and George Springer to begin his outing, losing Springer out of a 1-2 count. Carlos Correa flew out to deep center field with a good swing of an offspeed, yet Rasmus swung and missed in front of a first-pitch changeup.
"I don't know what's going through his mind there," Fulmer said. "I decided to double up on it, threw it almost the same spot, just hung it a little bit."
After another walk to Carlos Gomez, Fulmer induced a Luis Valbuena flyout before using his changeup to strike out Tyler White.
"I think they eliminated the slider and forced me to throw more changeups," Fulmer said. "I threw a couple good changeups today."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.