CINCINNATI — When Michael Fulmer returned from the injured list in late July, he came back to the big leagues with some advice — and a new throwing instruction program — from Detroit Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter and rehab coordinator Corey Tremble.
He had been out for a month with a right cervical spine strain, a product of “overthrowing” in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen.
“It was more trap and neck,” Fulmer told the Free Press in August. “That’s literally just because of being too long (with my arm path) and getting my head away from my arm.”
A starter for his entire career, Fulmer transitioned to the bullpen in 2021. He became obsessed with the adrenaline rush, but his success led to unnecessary neck movement and a violent throwing motion. He previously dealt with a right shoulder strain in June.
Fulmer was sent to Lakeland, Florida, for his rehab program. Fetter wanted Fulmer to clean up his mechanics by shortening his arm path.
“Keeping the arm closer to the head with a shorter arm path and separating the hands later, you’re taking all this extra movement out of it,” Fulmer said. “You’re just focusing on everything being out front in your release point. You don’t have to worry about being too long or anything.”
That’s what Fetter asked Fulmer to change.
“Hey, I got the perfect tool for that,” Tremble told Fulmer in Lakeland, home of the Tigers’ spring training facility.
Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Dave Coggin developed the “Pocket Path” to help pitchers learn the correct arm action and throwing mechanics — with an emphasis on repetition. The full training kit costs $149 and comes with a belt, sleeve and four weighted training balls.
The sleeve forces the ball to follow Fulmer’s preferred arm path. He uses the product during pregame warmups, even if he isn’t likely to pitch.
Considering Fulmer’s neck symptoms, he was a perfect candidate for Coggin’s invention.
“His neck was bothering him,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Friday. “He took the opportunity to look at his throwing motion. What was putting the strain on his neck was his delivery in his arm path. As that shortened up, it got him more in line with how he was trying to hit his arm path and have his arm be ready to move forward when his body’s in a position for that to happen and not drag his arm, pull his neck and suddenly have his arm be behind. The other thing is it allows him not to have a ton of room for error, which is a good thing.”
Fulmer gave his explanation: “Essentially, it’s just a shorter arm path so I’m not putting that super stress on my shoulder. The shoulder has to work a lot to get the arm up first and then go throw. You’re almost putting double stress on it. If I’m staying straight back and up, it eliminates the stress on the shoulder. It doesn’t have to work as hard to get the arm up.”
Fulmer has pitched 44 innings over 37 games out of the bullpen with a 3.27 ERA, 11 walks and 54 strikeouts. He also started four games earlier in the season, giving him a combined 3.65 ERA across 56⅔ innings in his second season since recovering from right knee surgery and Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2019 campaign.
Since returning from his latest stint on the injured list, Fulmer has a 2.70 ERA with five walks and 19 strikeouts over 16⅔ innings.
He just feels healthy again.
“We did this in two, three weeks time when I was in Lakeland,” Fulmer said. “It’s so crazy to me that we’ve come this far. It’s not there yet. It’s not perfected yet. There’s still a lot to work on. I’m going to continue working in the offseason, but it’s hard not to be happy with the results.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.