Houston – Michael Fulmer has 85 big-league starts under his belt, so he understands the routine. Or, he used to.
This one might be different. His start here on Wednesday comes after three outings and seven impressive innings out of the bullpen. So, what’s the approach? Go back to his starter’s routine or stay with what’s been working for him out of the bullpen?
“I’m going to kind of have to wing it,” he said with a smile Tuesday.
Fulmer threw a high-energy, 35 to 40 pitch bullpen in Cleveland a few days ago. That’s something he’d do when he was starting regularly. And his last outing, four innings and 68 pitches, was five days ago at Comerica Park.
So in that sense, he’s in starter mode. But from his pre-game routine to his attack mentality on Tuesday, he’s going to stay with what was working for him out of the bullpen.
“I’ve learned a lot from getting the body ready on a daily basis as opposed to every fifth day,” Fulmer said. “The amount of time it takes me to get loose is not nearly as much as I thought I needed. I’m taking a lot of that into tomorrow.
“I’m going to prepare like I did the first seven games of the season out of the bullpen. Just try to replicate that as best as I can for my start.”
In other words, he won’t be easing in or saving anything for the later innings.
“My mentality even back in 2016, 2017 and 2018 was the same as it is now coming out of the bullpen,” he said. “Just go out and attack and use 100% effort from pitch one. I’d rather see how tired I can get later in the game then try to save something in the tank for later in the game and not have to use it.”
Fully healthy now after battling back from major knee and elbow surgeries, Fulmer’s average velocity on both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs is back to 95 mph. His slider, with the increased arm speed, is back up to 89-90 mph with more bite. He’s also mixing in a change-up again.
Opponents are a combined 4 for 25 against those four pitches this season.
“I don’t want him to do anything different than what he’s done,” manager AJ Hinch said. “The first few outings have been really good. The mentality has to be the same.”
Hinch said he jokingly asked Fulmer if he wanted to treat the start like an Opener Wednesday, just one time through the order like he did all of last season when he was essentially rehabbing.
Fulmer gave him a hard no on that.
“I’m excited to get that (starting) role again and I hope it goes well,” Fulmer said. “I guess we will find out tomorrow what’s in the tank, but I’ve been encouraged with what I’ve been seeing.”
Afterwards, Hinch couldn’t even really stay mad at him.
Rookie Akil Baddoo hit a 450-foot home run into the Budweiser deck at Minute Maid Park Monday. A couple innings later he hit another ball in the same area and he immediately went into his home run trot, even slapping hands with first base coach Ramon Santiago.
Problem was, the ball landed at the base of the fence and Baddoo had to reignite the jets and scamper sheepishly into second base.
“I think he and (Astros shortstop) Carlos Correa had a talk about it at second base,” Hinch said. “You can’t ever stop on the play. It was embarrassing for Akil and for Ramon, and it’s certainly not anything anyone thought was funny.”
Bench coach George Lombard addressed the play with Baddoo between innings. Then Baddoo came up to Hinch, owned up to the mistake and apologized for it.
“The fact that he acknowledged it and was man enough to admit it changed my entire reaction about it, to be honest,” Hinch said. “It’s a simple mistake, but we can’t turn it into a habit.”
SCHOOP FIGHTING IT
Jonathan Schoop struck out four times Monday. Coming into the game Tuesday, he had six hits in 32 at-bats and had struck out in 11 of his last 20 plate appearances.
“I know he’s very frustrated,” Hinch said. “He’s taken extra hitting after games, which is something I haven’t seen a lot of veteran players do. He’s wearing out Coolie (hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh) after games.
“He wants to make an adjustment and we need him to do that.”
Schoop, who signed a $4.5 million deal with the Tigers on Feb. 5 and then was three weeks late getting into camp with travel and COVID-19 protocol issues, was 6 for 30 in spring with nine strikeouts. So, this is a prolonged skid.
“I think of it more as grinding,” Hinch said. “He’s mentally grinding away trying to be a more productive player. It’s frustrating him but we’re going to stick with him because we believe in him.”
AROUND THE HORN
…Hinch said right-hander Spencer Turnbull is scheduled to start and throw four or five innings Thursday in an alternate site game in Toledo. He will face hitters from the Reds alternate site team. Turnbull has been working himself back after being shut down for five weeks after he was put in COVID-19 protocols. If he continues to progress, he would be on track to return to the Tigers’ rotation next Tuesday.