CHICAGO – What had been a break to let Michael Fulmer rest his arm following a big week out of the Tigers’ bullpen is now an injury of greater concern. The team placed the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year on the 10-day injured list Sunday morning with a right shoulder strain.
Jason Foley, the Tigers’ No. 27 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was called up from Triple-A Toledo and added to the roster to fill the spot in the bullpen. Fulmer, meanwhile, awaits tests in Detroit to figure out if he’s dealing with inflammation, as the Tigers believe, or further damage.
Given Fulmer’s injury history, including Tommy John surgery two years ago from a right elbow injury that arose while trying to come back from right knee surgery, the Tigers have to proceed carefully.
“We’re not expecting this to linger a long time, but we have to be cautious now, given the way that it all went down,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
Fulmer last pitched on May 30, recording the final four outs of the Tigers’ series sweep of the Yankees at Comerica Park. The original plan, as Hinch described it, was to rest Fulmer for the two-game series in Milwaukee and have him fresh in Chicago to face the White Sox, but Fulmer still didn’t feel right while playing catch.
Saturday might have been a deadline day to make a roster move regardless, given how long an IL move can be backdated. But once Fulmer reported feeling discomfort while throwing Saturday morning, rather than simply fatigue, the waiting game was over.
“The way this week played out was a lot different in how it started than how it finished,” Hinch said. “We had nothing to be alarmed about at the beginning of the week, and now we’re putting him on the injured list at the end of the week. That’s a tough turn of events. … We need to run a full battery of tests to see exactly what it is that we’re dealing with. We don’t think it’s structural. We don’t think it’s something that is going to escalate. But again, once he made himself unavailable [Saturday], it kind of left us no choice.”
Fulmer is in his second season back from undergoing Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the UCL in his right elbow. He made it through last year’s shortened season in the rotation throwing 27 2/3 innings over 10 abbreviated starts on a low pitch count.
Fulmer competed for a rotation spot in Spring Training, but he ended up in the bullpen. He made four starts in April and early May while the Tigers were missing injured starters, but he eventually transitioned into a late-game relief role, where the combination of short outings and his experience pitching longer allowed him to thrive in a closer-by-committee format.
Fulmer made four saves in a 16-day stretch, generally pitching every other day, but was initially rested after a pair of 22-pitch outings in a three-day span last weekend against the Yankees.
Even if Fulmer has no damage and responds well to rest, it’ll be worth watching whether the Tigers monitor his workload going forward, and how that affects his and other roles in the bullpen.