DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer is still months away from pitching in a game again. But after nearly a year off for elbow and knee surgeries, simply being in a Major League clubhouse again -- as he was Thursday morning for the start of the Tigers Winter Caravan -- felt like being back.
“Just being back around everybody and finally getting to talk shop again, I haven’t had it in a year,” Fulmer said. “I’m sitting there talking to a 3-month-old during the summer about baseball and pitch grips while we’re watching the Tigers play. We had good times with it, but I can’t express how ready I am to finally be back in this atmosphere.”
It will still be awhile until Fulmer sits at his locker to prepare for a start. Fulmer is scheduled to progress to 120-foot throws on flat ground next week at Detroit's Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Fla. He has more distance to go in his long-tossing before he’ll be cleared to throw off a mound.
The deliberate pace is meant to lessen the risk of re-injury. The Tigers set up Fulmer’s recovery timetable this way when he was scheduled for surgery at the end of last Spring Training, pushing him to an estimated return of 15-16 months.
“It’s going to be into the summer,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He looks great; he feels great. He’s had two major surgeries. He’s lost a ton of weight, and he’s working really hard, but we still have some time here. It’s going to be deep into the summer.”
The weight loss -- 20 pounds, by Fulmer’s estimation -- is also by design.
“I’ve always kind of performed well at my weight the past couple years, but I think just the load on my knee -- anything to help that,” Fulmer said. “We’re trying to get down to a little less than what it was and just see how it feels. I think this time off has been great on the knee.”
He’s throwing pain-free, he said, for the first time in as long as he can remember.
“Everybody has little tears here, little tears there, but you pitch through them if it’s nothing obviously big,” he said. “But after going through spring and the pain I was in spring with the knee and then the elbow and still trying to pitch through it -- I wanted to, I really did. I wanted to see if it was that bad, and it just got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. It ended up being a huge hole in my [right] UCL, so that would be why the pain.
“I think this time off with my son being born and then giving extra rest to the knee, it feels fantastic now. So I’m happy to be pain-free and looking forward to that when I finally get off the mound.”
One of the few prominent Tigers not in town this week is Miguel Cabrera, who is away this weekend to watch his young son in a baseball tournament. Thus, there won’t be any public sighting of Cabrera and the offseason work he has put in to try to lose weight and ease the wear and tear on his right knee.
“I haven’t seen him at all, but he told me when he left last year that he was going to work really hard to get himself in shape,” Gardenhire said. “He wants to play infield. I just want him healthy all year. I want him to be able to swing and run the bases. First base, we’ll see.”
The Tigers signed C.J. Cron to serve as their primary first baseman, which puts Cabrera back at designated hitter. But the team has not ruled out some starts back at first base for the 11-time All-Star and and two-time American League MVP Award winner.
“I’m not ruling it out because it’s Miggy,” Gardenhire added. “He’ll be in my office a lot if I rule it out. … You have to remember, this guy’s one of the best baseball players that’s played, and he doesn’t like sitting on the bench. He likes to be out there. He loves playing first base. He has a lot of fun out there. He talks to everybody. He just enjoys baseball.
“That’s important for him to try to get out there, but the biggest thing for us is to keep him healthy. ... My job is to keep him on the field hitting for us. We’ll see how it goes.”
Cron said he’s fine with however the mix works out.
“He’s one of the greatest of all time, and I don’t know if there’s much competition in all that,” Cron said.
No long-term deal for Boyd
With Spring Training just around the corner, Matthew Boyd appears set to remain a Tiger for another season. But while the left-hander would like to be part of Detroit’s long-term plans, he said a multiyear contract was not discussed when the two sides avoided arbitration earlier this month.
“No,” he said, “but that would be cool. That would be something cool. But that’s out of my control. I’m just so grateful to wear the Olde English D, and I want to win a championship here.”
Don’t knock the Fiers
Long before Mike Fiers talked publicly about the Astros’ sign-stealing techniques, he warned his then-Tiger teammates in 2018 to mix up their signs when they went to Houston that July. Tigers pitchers appreciated the heads-up at the time, not knowing the depth to which the Astros’ efforts might go.
“I mean, I knew they were doing something,” Jordan Zimmermann said. “I didn’t know they were going to that extreme. Obviously, I was pretty shocked to know what they were doing, and I’m glad something came out so we can clear things up and you don’t have to go in with 10 different sign sets and switch things up constantly.”
Fiers, Zimmermann said, “didn’t really say what they were doing, but he said, ‘Just make sure you guys have multiple sign sets and you can switch up on the go. Just be careful with these guys.’”
Now, as Fiers comes under scrutiny from television analysts and team special assistants like Jessica Mendoza and Pedro Martinez for going public, he still has support from ex-teammates.
“I understand every perspective of it. I get it. But at the same time, it’s not like he went and tattletaled,” Daniel Norris said. “People were voicing it for a long time. It’s not like he’s the only person who rung a bell or blew a whistle. It finally just got out. I feel bad that he’s catching flak from it. It’s just a weird situation.”
Said Boyd: “I serve the Lord and it's his place to judge, not mine. That was Mike's prerogative and ... it's not how I'm called, to condemn or condone in any way.”
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.