DETROIT — Michael Fulmer is used to an easy stroll out of the bullpen and into the dugout at Comerica Park just before the game starts. It’s all he had known in his Tigers career.
On Saturday, he had the jog in from the bullpen straight to the mound, the route all relievers take. He ran right into a seventh-inning setup role, protecting a 2-1 lead, and retired the bottom of the Cleveland lineup in order before the Tigers tacked on three runs to pull away during the 5-2 win.
“Did I expect to be put in that situation for the first time? No,” Fulmer said. “Was I happy it happened? Absolutely. I kind of want to dive off the deep end and just go out and not think and just try to do my job.”
When manager A.J. Hinch said he could use Fulmer and his other converted starters in a variety of ways, he wasn’t being diplomatic. Nor is Fulmer just saying the right things when he says he wants to embrace the role he has for now.
“I told you guys in Spring Training, and I’ll reiterate it now, that I’m happy to do whatever I can for this team to help them win,” Fulmer said. “The way I look at it is if we’ve got five or six starters that can go out and perform the way that Matty [Boyd] and Julio [Teheran] did these first two games, then it puts our team in a great position. So if I can stay in the bullpen, that means that our starters are doing extremely well, and I’m happy for all of them and for this team. So if we’ve got five or six guys that can go out and shove every fifth day, sixth day, then I’m happy to stay put.”
Fulmer does not believe the shorter outings or reliever adrenaline led to his extra velocity Saturday, but the 95.4 mph average velocity on his five fastballs Saturday was two miles above last season’s average. His two-seamer topped out just shy of 96 mph, and his changeup checked in at 89. Fulmer believes it’s a product of his mechanical work in Spring Training finally coming together, along with his renewed health in his second year back from Tommy John surgery.
He also realized the value of throwing each pitch with purpose.
“Am I done starting? Probably not, but I’ll probably carry that mentality back into starting when that chance arises,” Fulmer said. “I don’t think it’s a different mentality other than the fact that I know I’m going to get three outs, six outs, nine outs, whatever it may be, just attacking a little more and having more conviction, a little more effort.”
Day off for Miggy
Miguel Cabrera was a notable absence from Sunday’s lineup after dealing with cramping late in Saturday’s game, but Hinch downplayed the day off on his list of concerns.
“I was looking for a day off for him this homestand. It’s convenient, given he’s a little bit sore coming out of [Saturday], and I want to get everybody some playing time,” Hinch said. “But nothing that I’m concerned about at this point.”
Tigers could get COVID-19 protocols eased
While the majority of the Tigers’ roster and staff have received COVID-19 vaccinations in recent days, the Tigers are still waiting to see if they end up with the 85 percent vaccination rate MLB has set for teams to relax some of their COVID-19 protocols.
Clubs were informed on Monday that MLB and the MLBPA had agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85 percent of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.
“I don’t know the exact number, but I know we were aiming for that, and we’re pretty close, if we’re not right at it,” Hinch said. “I know we’ve all been educated about it. We know that that’s the big number, that things can relax a little bit. I know it was on the forefront of all of our minds, those of us that wanted the vaccine from the get-go, maybe some guys in the maybe/maybe not column.”