Cleveland – Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer doesn’t see it this way, but the way things have gone for him this season, it may be prudent for him to shut it down, get out of harm’s way and come back stronger and better next year.
“No, just from a competitive, personal standpoint, I want to do my best to make my last two starts,” he said Sunday. “Because we did figure something out, me and Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson). I just want to get out there as many times as I can for this team before the season is over.”
That doesn’t seem likely. Fulmer will have an MRI on his right knee in Detroit Monday, and the results of that will determine his fate. But the pain and inflammation were still with him Sunday morning and he expects the MRI will show some damage.
“Yeah,” he said. “Obviously it bothered me yesterday or I would never have come out of the game. If we were in a playoff race, I wouldn’t let them take me off the field. But, we’ll get the MRI and go from there.”
Fulmer felt a twinge in the knee after his first pitch Saturday when he went to chase a bunt attempt by Indians leadoff hitter Francisco Lindor.
“I don’t know if my spike got caught in the dirt near the rubber or what, but when I went to push off to get the bunt, I tweaked the knee,” Fulmer said. “On the second pitch, I tried to shift my weight back and I felt like I hung in the air for a whole extra second and my knee kind of buckled on me.
“I just didn’t have any push-off power.”
The second pitch was a fastball – a pitch Fulmer typically brings with 95-96 mph velocity. This one was 91 mph and Lindor sent it over the right-field fence. Fulmer threw a ball and a strike to the second hitter, Michael Brantley. Then his third pitch, a flat slider at 86 mph, was also blasted over the right field wall.
Catcher James McCann immediately called manager Ron Gardenhire and head athletic trainer Doug Teter to the mound. Fulmer didn’t throw another pitch.
“My frustration was huge,” Fulmer said. “We worked so hard the last couple of months battling the oblique (strain), coming back pretty quick from that. And then just to tweak it on the first pitch like that. I told Gardy at least give me an inning. But he was thinking long-term and making sure I didn’t do any further damage.”
Fulmer, who had ulnar nerve transposition surgery at the end of last season, has struggled to find his form all season. He’s wrestled with his mechanics, changing them first with pitching coach Chris Bosio and then going in a different direction when Anderson took over.
Those struggles are reflected in his career-worst 4.69 ERA, 1.315 WHIP and the career-most 19 home runs he’s allowed in 132 innings.
Over the All-Star break, he felt he’d finally found what he was looking for, but before he could test it, he strained his oblique in a bullpen session. That put him the disabled list for more than a month.
“Just been a frustrating year,” he said. “I finally felt like, in my last two starts, I’d got my old mechanics back. I was reading swings off the bat, reading swing from hitters. I thought we were really getting somewhere and I felt really good about it.”
He’d struck out 10 and allowed four earned runs in 13 innings in starts against the White Sox and Cardinals. His fastball was touching 98 again and his slider was sharp and biting. Then Lindor bunted to lead off the game Saturday.
“The thing that frustrates me the most is, this year and last year, my arm felt great,” he said. “The shoulder feels fantastic. I felt like in 2016 I got fatigued and it showed in the results. But the last two years it’s been a nerve problem and a knee.
“There’s really nothing you can do about that.”
Except maybe go back home, clear your head, get healthy and come back stronger and better next season.