Phoenix — Michael Fulmer watched his buddy Daniel Norris go through this last year.
The trade deadline is still more than a month away (Aug. 2) but this is when pundits start preparing their lists of top trade chips and rumors start flying. Never mind that most teams haven’t yet determined whether they are going to be sellers or buyers or abstainers at the deadline.
Because he’s a leverage reliever having a strong season, and because he’s going into his free-agent year, Fulmer is showing up on those lists. Just like Norris did last season.
“I’m pitching for the Tigers until I’m not,” Fulmer said before Saturday’s game. “That’s one of those things whether it’s trade deadline, end of the year or for future seasons — all I can do is keep trying to put up zeros and focus on now.”
Fulmer put up his 11th straight zero Friday night. He’s allowed one hit and struck out 16 over his last 10 2/3 innings. He’s only allowed 12 hits in 26 innings this season, checking hitters on a .135 average, fourth-lowest among relievers in baseball.
He’s 29, in his sixth season and he’s already been traded once, from the Mets to the Tigers in 2015 for Yoenis Cespedes. He knows the drill.
“I’ve talked to people about that,” he said. “It’s like, don’t worry about what the future holds, just do what you need to do right now. And right now, we’re trying to win ballgames.”
He remembers the mixed emotions that Norris went through last year when he was traded to the Brewers.
“He said it was kind of a rough ride,” Fulmer said. “Being on this team for six years and getting traded. But ultimately he got a chance to pitch for a playoff-contending team. He said that was a big deal for him. I think everybody’s goal is to pitch in the postseason.
“He said it was weird getting to know a new group of guys in the middle of the season.”
Fulmer also said there’s unfinished business here with the Tigers. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2016, the last year the Tigers were in real contention for a playoff spot. He’s lived through the full rebuild and he battled back from two major surgeries (knee and elbow) to be part of the turnaround.
“Detroit has given me everything,” he said. “They gave me a chance when they traded for me in 2015. I’ve seen a lot and I think this team is on the upswing. The future is bright here.”
But he can’t control what general manager Al Avila does next month. Just put on the Old English D every day until they take it away.
“I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “I’m not focused on it. I’m just trying to put up the best numbers I can. We’re still trying to get wins. Season isn’t over. We’re still a good team and I feel like we’re finally starting to play better.”
Beau knows home
Rookie right-hander Beau Brieske, in his first two months in the big leagues, has already pitched in some of baseball’s most hallowed cathedrals — Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
Now it gets tricky. On Sunday, the Chandler, Arizona, native will pitch at Chase Field, the stadium he came to games with his as a kid, rooting on Eric Byrnes, Orlando Hudson, Paul Goldschmidt and flat-out studying Zack Greinke.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” he said. “And I think the coolest part about it, a lot of people I was friends with growing up around here, my coaches and teammates and all the people who helped me along the way to get to this point are going to come out and watch. I think that’s the coolest part.
“Also, looking back at that kid who was coming here watching these games and wanting to be one of the players at this level — also pretty cool.”
He hasn’t been overwhelmed by any venue he’s pitched in to this point, but the emotions might be a little thicker coming back home.
“I feel like it’s a privilege,” Brieske said. “We all want to get to this point and it’s cool to be the guy who did make it. It’s cool to look back and say I had this dream as a young kid and now I’m actually out there doing it.”
There was a lot of fanfare when the Tigers’ called up top prospect Riley Greene, as you’d expect. And when manager AJ Hinch announced that Greene would be in the lineup every day in center field, Willi Castro didn’t need help doing the math.
His playing time was going to get cut, sharply. He was playing virtually every day. Since Greene arrived on June 18, Castro has made one start and got into Friday’s game as a pinch-runner.
“Nothing changes,” Castro said. “It’s great to be up here and when I get the opportunity again, I am going to do the best I can do. It’s part of baseball. I never back out. I always keep my head up and play.”
During the depths of the Tigers’ offensive futility, Castro was hitting the ball consistently well. He wasn’t hitting for power, but he was putting ball in play and keeping his batting average at or close to .300. When the team endured a rash of injuries to outfielders, he went out there and performed reasonably well considering he was learning the position on the fly at the big-league level.
So, to go from playing regularly to hardly at all, sure, it’s been a blow.
“Yeah, it’s something I think about,” Castro said. “I’d been doing a good job to be out there every day. But it’s part of baseball. They make the decisions, the manager and the general manager. I’ve just got to come out like always and just work.
“And when I have the opportunity to go back, I have to do my 100%.”
Hinch said Castro would be back in the lineup on Sunday.
“He wants to play and he will give everything he’s got when he’s in there,” Hinch said. “He will play tomorrow and play a lot against left-handed pitching.”
With 13 position players on the roster now, several players have lost some playing time — Kody Clemens and Harold Castro among them.
“With a bigger bench, two things have to happen,” Hinch said. “Either the starters get more time off or the guys who move around, the guys on the bench are going to have to sit for a minute between their starts.
“It creates a little bit of competition and little bit of a ‘how do I keep them sharp’ question.”
Tigers at Diamondbacks
First pitch: 4:10 Sunday, Chase Field, Phoenix
RHP Beau Brieske (1-6, 4.07), Tigers: It’s been a strong month for the rookie. In four starts he’s allowed six runs in 23 2/3 innings with 19 strikeouts and three walks. Three of the six runs came on one swing, a three-run homer by Boston’s Trevor Story in his last outing. Opponents in June are hitting a paltry .218 and slugging .345.
LHP Dallas Keuchel, tentative (2-5, 7.88), Diamondbacks: This would be his first start in the big leagues since May 26, right before he was released by the White Sox. He made two tune-up outings against rookie ball hitters. In the last he went seven innings and struck out 13.