The last batter of Michael Fulmer’s outing Sunday pretty much summed up his day. He threw five different pitches in his five-pitch at-bat against Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp, starting with a slider that Knapp chased and ending with a curveball that prompted Knapp to chase again for an inning-ending strikeout.
With that, Fulmer finished three scoreless innings on one hit with three strikeouts. He retired his final seven batters after Luke Williams’ fourth-inning single. But more important than Fulmer’s results during the Tigers’ 5-3 win were the pitches.
Fulmer threw nine sinkers, nine changeups, nine sliders and eight fastballs among his 39 offerings, according to Statcast. His other four pitches were curveballs. All five pitches drew at least one swing and miss, totaling nine overall.
“I liked what I saw,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “and he accomplished everything that he wanted, or we wanted. He did go out with a little extra. I don’t know if it’s something to prove. I think he just wanted to show us some conviction and wanted to just kind of let it loose and go and attack hitters, and he did.”
Considering Fulmer pitched out of the bullpen in this one, he might have had something to prove. Hinch moved Fulmer out of the start and put him in relief to change the routine and potentially the mindset. Hinch said he was not going to tell Fulmer ahead of time when he’d pitch in the game, and Hinch threw a changeup by following starter Matt Manning with lefty Derek Holland for an inning. Hinch didn’t want Fulmer overthinking his outing; he just wanted him to mix pitches, attack the strike zone and get outs.
It doesn’t mean Fulmer is headed to the Tigers' bullpen for good. The results helped his cause to start. But the change in process should prompt some discussion about Fulmer’s preparation.
The Phillies hit some balls hard off Fulmer during his first inning, including Darick Hall’s 110 mph liner for an out and Williams’ 102 mph ground-ball single -- both off sinkers. Once Fulmer ended the inning with a Ronald Torreyes grounder, again off a sinker, he settled in and got into his mix, including first-pitch breaking balls.
“He threw all his pitches,” Hinch said. “He worked hard through his outing to stay one pitch at a time, just do one good rep and then follow that to a second good rep and then a third good rep. He threw the ball certainly as well as he has this spring, but it was an encouraging outing."
Turnbull might remain shelved for camp
The Tigers could face a decision on Spencer Turnbull’s readiness for Opening Day after Hinch acknowledged the right-hander might not have enough time to pick up his Spring Training routine where he left off.
“Right now, he’s still away from the club and away from the complex. He’s not reporting to doing anything baseball-wise here with us,” Hinch said. “So, obviously, we’re getting toward the end of camp; it’s looking more and more unlikely that he’s going to be able to do much between now and then, as of now. We’ll see as we get toward the end of camp if he’s available or not.”
The standard protocol for COVID-19 absences due to contact tracing is seven days. It’s unclear when Turnbull’s absence began, though Hinch announced it this weekend.
It surely rules Turnbull out of an Opening Day start, which seemed a strong possibility the way the Tigers' rotation lined up. Depending on his status, the Tigers could put him in line toward the back of the rotation, giving him more time to stretch out, or they could potentially leave him off the active roster to open the season until he’s ready, a more cautious approach.
Manning takes decision in stride
Though Manning was optioned to minicamp on Tuesday, the Tigers’ No. 5 prospect got the start for the big club Sunday with Fulmer’s shift to the bullpen. The young right-hander didn’t have dominant stuff, battling fastball command at the start and averaging 92.7 mph with the heater, but he escaped a potentially disastrous first inning with two runs despite three hits and a walk.
With activity in Detroit’s bullpen, Manning stranded two runners with back-to-back strikeouts, fanning Knapp on a 94 mph fastball before spotting a 95.4 mph heater for a three-pitch strikeout of Hall. Manning walked another batter to lead off the second inning, but he erased the damage with a double play two pitches later.
“Today, we were working on holding the ball, holding baserunners well, which I think I did a good job of keeping guys close to the bag,” Manning said. “And just more quality strikes, picking points in the strike zone and working from there.”
“The ball needs to be caught,” Hinch said.
• Niko Goodrum ended an 0-for-23 Grapefruit League slump by driving a Chase Anderson fastball 432 feet to right field for a go-ahead home run in the fourth inning. He began the spring 4-for-4.