Last SlideNext Slide
Detroit Tigers right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer looked good.
In an exhibition Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds, the Tigers lost, 2-1, at Great American Ball Park. The now-healthy Fulmer started and went two innings, giving up two hits with four strikeouts on 31 pitches (17 strikes).
The scrimmage ends all preseason activity, which began in early July. After an off-day Thursday, the 60-game season kicks off at 6:10 p.m. Friday, as left-handed pitcher Matthew Boyd faces Cincinnati right-hander Sonny Gray to open the three-game series.
The Tigers’ next day off doesn’t arrive until Aug. 13.
[ Why several Detroit Tigers didn’t take the field for national anthem in Cincinnati ]
Here are observations from Wednesday’s exhibition:
Detroit Tigers Michael Fulmer (32) pitches in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
(Photo: Albert Cesare -USA TODAY Sports)
Fulmer escapes, then dominates
Fulmer, 27, worked himself into a jam in the bottom of the first inning. He gave up a single to Phillip Ervin and a sharp line-drive double to Josh VanMeter, putting two runners in scoring position with no outs.
Facing former Tiger Eugenio Suarez, the third baseman who had 49 homers and 103 RBIs last season, Fulmer tossed him a slider and back-to-back fastballs, getting him to pop out to second. Another former Tiger, Nick Castellanos, struck out looking. Then Mike Moustakas grounded out to end the threat.
And in the second inning? He struck out Matt Davidson, Nick Senzel and Curt Casali in order.
Fulmer’s performance, especially in the first inning, proves he has mentally and physically returned.
He last pitched in the big leagues on Sept. 15, 2018, when he gave up two home runs on five pitches without recording an out. Since then, he’s undergone right knee surgery and Tommy John surgery — missing the entire 2019 season.
[ Tigers’ Fulmer ready to return in 2020: ‘Best shape I’ve ever seen’ ]
Even though Wednesday’s outing — facig non-Tigers batters — is a positive sign, it’s yet to be seen if Fulmer will duplicate the success he had in his 2016 American League Rookie of the Year campaign. That year, he went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 159 innings.
Since the organization doesn’t want to stress Fulmer with extra innings, the Tigers showcased what the back end of the starting rotation might look like early this season by utilizing left-hander Tyler Alexander in the third inning.
A second-round pick in 2015, the 26-year-old carved up five -straight Reds — until giving up a Davidson homer to center. But he bounced back by striking out Nick Senzel to end the fourth inning.
Manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Alexander after two innings in favor of reliever John Schreiber. He struck out two hitters; his only mistake was the home run.
Right now, Detroit only has three guarantees in the rotation: left-hander Boyd and right-handers Spencer Turnbull and Ivan Nova. What happens to the fourth and fifth spots is unknown, but it’ll likely come down to Fulmer, Alexander and left-hander Daniel Norris, who returned this week from the 10-day injured list after missing summer camp with the coronavirus.
If Fulmer is able to make it four or five innings, and the Tigers are comfortable with him doing so, he might be able to pitch in the fifth spot of the rotation, leaving Alexander in the No. 4 slot for the time being. Otherwise, piggybacking Fulmer and Alexander in an “opener” configuration, while using Norris in the leftover opening, might be best early in the season.
Through 13 games (eight starts) last year, Alexander registered a 4.86 ERA, 1.398 WHIP and a 47 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Carlos Monarrez: Tigers will stink in 2020, but remember, it’s not about this season
Despite success from Fulmer and Alexander, the Tigers couldn’t get much going offensively.
Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario (46) argues with the umpire at the top of the first inning at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
(Photo: Albert Cesare -USA TODAY Sports)
The only early threat came in the first inning when Niko Goodrum and C.J. Cron drew walks. Although it took righty Jose DeLeon 29 pitches, he wiggled out of the frame by striking out Jeimer Candelario.
Detroit had jsut two hits before the eighth — singles from JaCoby Jones and Candelario in the third and fourth innings, respectively. In the eighth, Jorge Bonifacio’s single to right field scored Willi Castro to tie the game, 1-1.
The team combined for 11 strikeouts and three walks.
In Tuesday’s exhibition, the Tigers scored seven runs on 12 hits (with four home runs) and two walks but still lost, 9-7.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.