Tigers map out plan for Fulmer's innings

June 30th, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG -- The first stage of the Michael Fulmer innings conservation plan ends Friday night, when the rookie right-hander takes the mound in a game for the first time in eight days. The second step begins next week.

The way the schedule plays out, and the way the Tigers play during it, could play a lot into what's to come from there.

After essentially having his start skipped last week, Fulmer will start Friday night, then return on his regular four days of rest Wednesday afternoon. That will be his final start before the All-Star break. He won't pitch again until they need a fifth starter for the fifth game out the break, currently scheduled for July 19 against the Twins.

Each of the other four rotation members will start twice in between then.

Manager Brad Ausmus' predecessor, Jim Leyland, did something similar with Rick Porcello during his 2009 season as a 20-year-old rookie. He ended up going 16 days between starts, and pitched just three times that July. From there, Porcello stayed in the rotation the rest of the way, albeit with a quick hook that allowed Leyland to take him out of games after five or six innings if the game was out of hand. The plan left Porcello at 170 2/3 innings at season's end, up from 125 innings at Class A Lakeland the previous year.

Fulmer pitched 124 2/3 innings last year. Ausmus has talked about a 25-30 percent increase from that, which would put him around 155-165 innings this season.

Between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo, he currently has 79 innings over 14 starts, just under six innings per outing. Eleven innings over his next two starts would send him into the break at 90. If the Tigers pitched him every fifth game after the break, he'd make 14 second-half starts, good for 77 innings at his current pace, and 167 innings for the year. If he pitches more innings in those starts, the Tigers have enough off-days down the stretch to skip him another turn.

The end goal is to avoid the wear and tear that has befallen some young pitchers with high workloads early in their careers. Kerry Wood's 1998 rookie season and his ensuing injuries are a frequently cited example. Ausmus isn't necessarily a hard-line subscriber to the limits, but he gets the bigger point.

"Better to be safe than sorry," Ausmus said. "I don't think anybody knows what the exact answer is, because you're dealing with human beings and they're all different."

Fulmer, having missed parts of two seasons with bone chips in his elbow and a torn meniscus in his leg, has helped the matter by not raising a fuss.

"I understand everywhere they're coming from," Fulmer said. "I'm not complaining about it. I just gotta go out and do my job whenever my name is called to pitch and go get a 'W' that night."

For now, Ausmus expects to keep Fulmer in the big leagues once his first half ends next Wednesday, rather than send him in the Minors.

"What if he makes the All-Star Game and we sent him down," Ausmus asked rhetorically.