HOUSTON -- The last time a Tigers rookie tossed seven scoreless innings in a game before Casey Mize on Monday, Michael Fulmer was dealing against the Rangers as part of his incredible 2016 summer. Fulmer was also pushing then-manager Brad Ausmus to let him go the distance after tossing eight innings and 7 2/3 innings in a couple of previous outings.
Fulmer got the go-ahead that Sunday afternoon and tossed a four-hit shutout with nine strikeouts, a key part of his American League Rookie of the Year resume. As he watched Mize cruise through the middle innings Monday night at Minute Maid Park, Fulmer wasn’t having flashbacks so much as he was thinking about Mize’s future.
“That’s just his potential,” Fulmer said. “We’ve all seen it. We’ve all known about it. He was a No. 1 overall [Draft] pick for a reason.”
Still, as Fulmer prepares for his first start this season in Wednesday’s series finale against the Astros, there’s a parallel. Like that Sunday five years ago in Texas, the reins are off for Fulmer. He not only steps in from the bullpen for his first start this season, he starts without an innings limit for the first time since 2018, before knee and elbow surgeries halted his career. His 10 starts last season had three-inning caps.
Fulmer’s four relief innings and 68 pitches on Friday in Cleveland marked his longest outing in three years. If he pitches as effectively Wednesday, he should be able to go longer. However, Fulmer doesn’t want to think about changing anything in a starting role, pacing or otherwise, compared to his bullpen mentality. He might mix in more curveballs as he works a second or third trip through the order.
“I don’t think much changes,” Fulmer said. “I think that my mentality back in ’16, ’17, 2018 was kind of the same mentality that it is out of the bullpen now, or was this year, just going out and attacking and using 100 percent effort from pitch one. I’d rather see how tired I can get later in the game than try to save some in the tank for later in the game and be out of the game by then, or not having to use it.”
That will be the test for Fulmer, replicating the velocity bump he saw in shorter outings as he stretches back out to starting length. Fulmer did it in long relief Friday, averaging 95 mph with his sinker and just under that with his four-seam fastball. He still hit 95 in his final inning, but mixed in more sliders and curves.
“I don’t want him to do anything different than what he’s done these first few outings,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s been really good. I think the mentality has to be the same.”
Still, mentality or not, starting is different.
“I asked him if he wanted me to [use] an opener,” Hinch said. “He said no, so I think he’s looking forward to starting again.”
Baddoo apologizes for home run celebration
Akil Baddoo raised eyebrows Monday with a 450-foot home run to center field off Zack Greinke, part of a two-hit, two-RBI performance. But Baddoo's second hit, a seventh-inning double off Luis Garcia, was a 403-foot drive to the same part of the park. Baddoo thought it was headed out, and slapped hands with first-base coach Ramon Santiago before realizing it hit off the base of the wall.
Baddoo was visibly frustrated with himself on second base.
“I think he and Carlos Correa had a talk about it at second base,” Hinch said. “You can’t ever stop on the play, and it was embarrassing for him and Ramon, and it’s certainly not something that anybody thought was funny. It was frustrating for him, and he’s really hard on himself.
“[Bench coach] George [Lombard] had a nice conversation with him, and then [Baddoo] came over and apologized to me, because he knew it was the wrong play. The fact that he acknowledged that and certainly is man enough to come and admit it changes my entire reaction about it. It’s a simple mistake. It’s just we can’t turn it into a habit.”
Turnbull to start at alternate site Thursday
Spencer Turnbull’s buildup to a return to Detroit’s rotation will continue Thursday when he starts at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio, against the Reds’ alternate-site roster. Turnbull, whose alt-site start against the Cubs in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday was shortened by rain, will pitch four or five innings, according to Hinch. That could put him on track to rejoin the Tigers' rotation for next week’s homestand against Pittsburgh and Kansas City.