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No limits? Tigers to be flexible with Fulmer

Righty threw 159 innings in rookie campaign; 200 IP in '17 'not out of the question'
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer admitted he was a little wary of manager Brad Ausmus as he made his way to the dugout after finishing the top of the fifth inning Wednesday. Fulmer had recovered nicely from early struggles that saw him throw 74 pitches over his first three innings, but he was at 97 pitches for the game.

"I went straight down to the tunnel and tried to stay away from Brad there," Fulmer said. "But then [pitching coach Rich] Dubee walks in and asks if I was OK and I said, 'Absolutely.'"

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DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer admitted he was a little wary of manager Brad Ausmus as he made his way to the dugout after finishing the top of the fifth inning Wednesday. Fulmer had recovered nicely from early struggles that saw him throw 74 pitches over his first three innings, but he was at 97 pitches for the game.

"I went straight down to the tunnel and tried to stay away from Brad there," Fulmer said. "But then [pitching coach Rich] Dubee walks in and asks if I was OK and I said, 'Absolutely.'"

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That was all Fulmer needed to say. Last year, he might not have received the benefit of the doubt, with the Tigers looking to limit his innings. This year, his restrictions are much more relaxed. To that end, Detroit isn't looking to skip Fulmer in the rotation order early on.

"We kind of knew where we wanted to be last year," Ausmus said. "It was a little bit of a balancing act. But we haven't really talked about a hard innings limit."

Video: MIN@DET: Fulmer strikes out seven over six innings

Talk of limiting Fulmer's innings went on for much of the second half last season. In the end, the Tigers decided not to shut down him at any point, but they opted to give him extra rest whenever possible to keep him pitching to season's end without making every turn. Fulmer pitched on standard four days' rest just twice from mid-August on. The 159 innings he ended up posting as in the Majors last year, plus 15 1/3 innings over three starts at Triple-A Toledo, were more than what Detroit originally planned, but the club felt good about lessening the impact.

"I think we'll probably go about it the same way," Ausmus said Wednesday. "We'll let him pitch, we'll see where he's at, and if we think we need to start manipulating the rotation to protect him -- not just him, but the other two young guys as well -- then we'll do what we can."

The other youngsters in the Tigers' rotation, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, are less of a concern because they both have less of an injury history. Fulmer had more concern last year because he threw just 124 2/3 innings in 2015.

If Fulmer builds off of last season's success, could he go 200 innings?

"If he performed that well, I don't think it would be out of the question," Ausmus said.

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.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer