As Deadline nears, Fulmer has ‘so much to be grateful for’

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — The scouts who have descended upon Comerica Park this week have been treated to a showcase of Tigers relievers on the market ahead of next week’s Trade Deadline. On Tuesday, it was Michael Fulmer’s turn. 

He gets it. This is what happens when pitchers near free agency on teams that aren’t winning. At the same time, he allowed himself to get a little nostalgic before he took the mound in Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Padres.

“I understand that [Wednesday] is our last home game before the Trade Deadline, and that might be a little tough,” Fulmer explained Tuesday afternoon. “But there’s so much to be grateful for with this organization and these teammates and these guys in this clubhouse, and you guys [in the media]. The Tigers gave me the opportunity to start my career out of Double-A. They traded for me when I was 22 years old, and now I’m 29. It’s been a long time, and I’m very appreciative and grateful of everything that everybody in this organization has done for me, from the ups to the downs, Tommy John [surgery], getting injured and all that stuff.

“It’s been a long road, a bumpy road, so hopefully, we can kind of work things out a little bit, and whatever they have on the business side of things, I’ve got no hard feelings whatsoever. I know this game is a business, and whatever this front office sees fit as being the best move forward for this organization, then I’m for it.”

True to his word, Fulmer got the call in the eighth inning to keep the Tigers within a run and did his job, retiring the Padres in order. He gave the handful of scouts on hand a display of the slider that has become a workhorse pitch for him. His first nine pitches were sliders, as were 11 of the 12 pitches he threw in the inning. Even for a pitcher who entered throwing 64 percent sliders for the season, and 72.9 percent sliders for the month, it was a lot. But it got the job done.

It’s a far different mix than the power-throwing kid who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2016. But as he prepares for a possible parachute into a playoff race, he thinks back to the 22-year-old who nearly found his way into the playoffs with the Tigers’ last winning team in ‘16.

The Tigers were in the thick of a Wild Card race down the stretch that year, including the final week, when their scheduled home finale was postponed by rain. Had the Tigers won and the Blue Jays or Orioles lost on the final day of the regular season, the race would’ve been close enough to make up for that rainout against Cleveland. Fulmer was in line to pitch that game.

“I think I was too starstruck or in awe that I was in the big leagues at the time still, even at the end of 2016, that I didn’t really know the effect of what was going on, how close we actually were to pitching in the playoffs,” Fulmer said. “I could tell that it was the end of the season. The body could tell that it was the end of the season. The body could tell that was the most innings I’d thrown. But we would’ve gotten out there and done whatever we could. That would have been a fun game, I’ll tell you that.”

That’s the last time the Tigers have been in a playoff race. While Detroit went into a rebuild, so did Fulmer, whose knee and elbow surgeries impacted his ensuing seasons and eventually led him to the bullpen. As he looks back, he has a lesson for the younger pitchers in the Tigers’ clubhouse. 

“I tell these guys now, ‘Just treat this game like there’s no next year,’” he said. “Don’t say, ‘Hey, we’re going to win next year,’ or, ‘Our window to win is two years from now.’ It’s win now, because you never know what’s going to happen. I can count my surgeries and missed lots of time with them. You never know when that last pitch is going to be thrown. So you can’t take anything for granted. Just enjoy the moment and go win today’s game.”

For the coming days, that’s what he’s doing. 

“We still have a week [before the Deadline],” he said, “and I’m still wanting to go up there and put up zeros.”

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