Fulmer battles again on road to TJ rebound 

Detroit Tigers

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire wanted badly to get Michael Fulmer through the third inning Saturday, enough that he left Fulmer in against left-handed hitter Nomar Mazara, who had been 5-for-11 against Fulmer, while Daniel Norris warmed. Fulmer had allowed eight White Sox hits and struggled with his breaking balls again,

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire wanted badly to get Michael Fulmer through the third inning Saturday, enough that he left Fulmer in against left-handed hitter Nomar Mazara, who had been 5-for-11 against Fulmer, while Daniel Norris warmed. Fulmer had allowed eight White Sox hits and struggled with his breaking balls again, but was an out away from escaping with three runs allowed.

Box score

Mazara’s two-out, two-run double chased Fulmer with a five-run deficit and sent the Tigers on their way to a 14-0 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Considering Reynaldo López’s success against Detroit, the outcome was headed that way, but the Tigers’ fourth loss in five games marked their third blowout in four days. It also dropped Detroit 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the eighth and final American League playoff spot.

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This is the process the Tigers committed to with Fulmer when he came back from Tommy John surgery in Summer Camp. They knew the history of starting pitchers in their first season back from the elbow procedure; it’s how Tarik Skubal dropped from highly regarded prospect to a ninth-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. They also knew Fulmer’s lack of rehab assignment with no Minor League season available amplified the challenge.

Skubal worked in relief after signing with the Tigers in 2018. His breakout ’19 season that vaulted him up prospect lists came in his second year back from surgery. Whether the 27-year-old Fulmer can experience anywhere near that kind of rebound is unclear, but the Tigers need to get him through the process one way or another to figure it out. He’s eligible for arbitration this coming offseason.

That doesn’t make the process easy. Fulmer (0-2) has a 9.27 ERA in eight starts after Saturday’s defeat and has allowed 37 hits over 22 1/3 innings. The Tigers have limited him to three innings or 60-70 pitches a start so far, but Saturday marked the fourth time in eight starts he hasn’t completed the third.

Fulmer’s continued struggle to find an effective, consistent breaking pitch has hampered him the past few starts, allowing opponents to center on his fastball. He threw 21 sliders out of 59 pitches in an effort to get it going, and threw some good ones for three swings and misses and three called strikes. He used a slider on a 2-0 pitch to get a Yasmani Grandal double play to escape a two-on, one-out jam in the second inning following a three-run first. But after a first-pitch slider for a called strike to Mazara in the third, Fulmer threw a curveball and slider that were nowhere close.

Mazara waited on Fulmer’s sinker and got it on his 2-1 pitch. The resulting line drive had a 103.9 mph exit velocity — one of four hits off Fulmer at 100 mph or harder — and traveled to the fence in left-center to score José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez following their back-to-back singles leading off the third. Abreu, Jiménez and Tim Anderson had two hits each off Fulmer, part of Anderson’s 4-for-5 night to improve to 18-for-35 off Tigers pitching this season.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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