Off ’embarrassing’ ’20, Fulmer eyes rebound

Detroit Tigers

Michael Fulmer didn’t mince words Thursday when talking about his 2020 season.
“As far as working off of last year, I’ll say it: It was embarrassing for me,” Fulmer said on a video conference with reporters after avoiding arbitration with a one-year, $3.1 million contract on Tuesday.
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Michael Fulmer didn’t mince words Thursday when talking about his 2020 season.

“As far as working off of last year, I’ll say it: It was embarrassing for me,” Fulmer said on a video conference with reporters after avoiding arbitration with a one-year, $3.1 million contract on Tuesday.

It’s not that he’s ungrateful to have made 10 starts in what was expected to be a partial season for him before the pandemic shutdown allowed him to be ready for Opening Day. He was able to find a routine after missing all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. But the numbers were admittedly ugly, from an 8.78 ERA to 45 hits and eight home runs allowed over 27 2/3 innings. He was limited to three innings a start by design, but he completed three innings in just half of his outings.

“I kind of want to forget last year altogether, honestly,” Fulmer said.

As disappointed as he was in his first season back from surgery, he’s as excited about the second one back, the season when many who have Tommy John surgery finally feel and pitch more like their former selves. It’s why, even as the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year enjoyed his first offseason in three years back home in Oklahoma instead of at the Tigertown complex in Florida, he began his throwing program in early December.

Fulmer has progressed to throwing bullpen sessions. He has forwarded video to new pitching coach Chris Fetter, who has replied with tips to help him with his mechanics. After changing his diet and losing a lot of weight during his rehab process last spring, he has added 10-15 pounds of “good weight” to help him maintain his strength, which he said waned as the season wore on.

“I’ve always been a bigger guy,” he said, “but after losing all that weight, trying to gain back, it’s extremely difficult. I didn’t realize it would be this hard, but I’m trying to get up there.”

Like the rest of the returning Tigers pitchers, Fulmer is preparing for Spring Training to begin on time in about a month. He’s also preparing for a jump in his workload with the limits of his post-surgery program lifted. How much of a jump remains to be seen.

“I haven’t really gotten to that conversation with Chris and [new manager] A.J. [Hinch], but my expectations are to just go out and make every start again,” Fulmer said. “I can only control what I can control. I want to be that workhorse guy again. I want to go deep into games. I want to save the bullpen. I want to win ballgames for this club. And obviously last year, I wasn’t able to do that, but I want to be back to that guy getting deep into games, and I think that’s my ultimate goal this year.”

Fulmer feels stronger and healthier now, he said, and feels the arm bouncing back. Now he has to translate that into his actual pitches. He picked up one step near the end of last season, when then-pitching coach Rick Anderson taught him a cutter as a going-away present. But his focus so far with Fetter is on his fastball velocity.

“You know, I thought I was 100 percent [last year]. Everything felt good,” Fulmer said, “but also, everything felt off just a little bit, whether it’s timing in my delivery or just arm strength not built up again. And it was tough last year with how the season played out and just going three innings a start.

“I think this year, I definitely feel better about everything as far as mechanics go. Last year I didn’t feel like I was able to put my body in good position, strong position, to be able to throw the baseball, so velocity was down and timing was a little bit off. I’ve already fixed some of those. I’m able to put my arm, my body in better positions now. I already feel better off a mound than I did all last year, so we’re looking forward to getting back and being a lot better.”

One part of Fulmer’s old offseason program that he hasn’t revived back in Oklahoma is his old plumbing gig. He donned the hat his boss gave him for some free advertising, but unlike years ago, he isn’t getting under the sink or into the dirt again.

“He’s trying to get me to work,” Fulmer said, “but I told him I had to work on a few other things.”

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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