Streaking Tigers off to best start since 2015

Fulmer-Norris a formidable 1-2 punch in piggyback starts

August 11th, 2020

DETROIT -- bounded back into the Tigers' dugout after the second inning on Monday like he had discovered something.

“I think I found some more velo, boys,” the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner told his teammates.

Two innings later, returned to the dugout to a different reception after a diving tag and near collision down the first-base line for the final out of the fourth.

“I just hit my head pretty good,” said Norris of his first inning of work, “so they just wanted to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. I checked out fine.”

They’re two former promising young Tigers starters with different personalities, and both wish they could be pitching deep into games on their own. But on Monday, they teamed up for five scoreless innings in a piggyback strategy that continued the club's best start since 2015 with a 5-1 victory over the White Sox at Comerica Park.

The 9-5 Tigers have won four in a row since their season resumed Friday in Pittsburgh after a four-day layoff last week for their postponed series against the Cardinals. They have concerns, especially at first base after a ground ball hit 's left knee and knocked him out of the game. But the combination of Fulmer and Norris might provide Detroit some stability it has been seeking at the back of its rotation while the two pitchers try to rediscover their old form.

“We’ll figure that one out,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We said that was going to be the tandem and we like it, and we’ll just see if we stay with it. There’s a lot of things stirring around right now that we’re trying to straighten out.”

Detroit leveraged the front of its rotation and an offensive outburst for a three-game weekend sweep of the Pirates, but the club faced possibly its toughest test yet this season with a talented young White Sox lineup and left-hander Dallas Keuchel on the mound.

While Keuchel faced the minimum through three innings, Fulmer traded scoreless frames with him thanks to a fastball that looked like his old form, topping out at 96.1 mph. It wasn’t what Fulmer expected as he warmed up in the bullpen prior to the game for his first start in two weeks and second back from Tommy John surgery 17 months ago.

“I honestly don’t know where it came from,” Fulmer said of the extra velocity. “Bullpen before the start wasn’t great. I shut it down early to kind of regather myself and restart, plus it was 90 degrees outside. [Catcher Austin] Romine did a good job tonight helping me relax. I got into some trouble all three innings, but he did a good job behind the plate calling pitches. I was just trying to hit the glove, play catch a little bit, and I was glad that ball’s coming back out again.”

Fulmer averaged 94.3 mph on his fastball on Monday, a full mph harder than he averaged with it two weeks ago against the Royals. He mixed in a dozen or so each of his slider, changeup and sinker, and he flipped in a couple first-pitch curveballs to mess with hitters’ timing.

“This day was going to eventually come. I’m glad it came now,” Fulmer said. “[Pitching coach] Rick [Anderson] and I have been working quite a bit these last two weeks, and I give him credit for helping me with some things that hopefully will continue forward.”

Fulmer tossed three scoreless innings on three hits with two strikeouts before Norris followed with a 94 mph fastball, two scoreless frames and two more strikeouts. But it was his mad dash and flying tag to retire Danny Mendick that stood out as the lasting image.

It was a quick reaction from Norris after he saw Cron fall over and stay down.

“It happened really fast,” Norris said. “I see it hit off C.J., I saw him go down and the ball pop up. So I’m running over thinking maybe it’s closer to him and he can flip it to me or vice versa. And then I saw him still down grabbing his knee. I saw the ball stopped, so I’ve gotta glove it instead of a bare hand. I scooped it and looked at the runner and thought I could make a play, so I laid out for it.”

Not until Mendick tripled and scored in the seventh inning did Chicago plate a run to make it a 2-1 ballgame, with 's second homer in three days the difference. Goodrum added three singles for a four-hit game.

' inside-the-park homer capped a three-run seventh inning to send Detroit on its way to its best start in five years.