When the Detroit Tigers acquired Michael Fulmer from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes last July at the trade deadline, it was a move for the future.
From the Mets’ perspective, they wanted to win now, and they did as they reached the World Series last October and are a contender this season. The Tigers wanted a young pitcher back from the Mets to rebuild their rotation.
A year later, the future is now for Detroit as Fulmer is on an incredible run and has cemented himself as the second or third starter in the Tigers rotation.
Fulmer kept his hot streak going against the Yankees on Sunday, as he threw six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and three walks and striking out three in the Tigers’ 4-1 victory.
With the win, Fulmer is now 7-1 on the season, with a 2.52 ERA, and had 52 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings pitched.
Fulmer extended his scoreless streak to 28 1/3 innings pitched, the second-longest scoreless innings streak by a rookie in Tigers franchise history. John Hiller tossed 28 2/3 scoreless innings from August 10-29, 1967.
Fulmer said of the streak he is on, “Just looking to go out and give my team a chance to win and put up zeroes while I’m at it. Just let the defense play, I’ve got seven guys behind me that can obviously do this for a living and do it very well. And the guy behind the plate, both of them (Saltalamacchia and James McCann) have done a fantastic job so far, and just look to keep it up.”
Fulmer said of being pulled after six innings at the 91-pitch mark on Sunday, “I felt good in the sixth, I finally got loose I feel like, started to command the ball there on the extended side of the plate. I could’ve gone out there for the seventh, but hey, I’m not complaining, for a team win. I pitch when they tell me to and stop when they tell me to.”
Fulmer said of what it was like to pitch in New York, “It’s fun to pitch here, especially at Yankee Stadium, just the guys that have played for this team and the guys that our out there an hour before us. They walked on the same field as we did today. I’m grateful and blessed for that, and I love this game, and I love this team. Looking to keep this up and keep this winning going.”
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said of what made Fulmer so tough, “Just the mixture of his pitches, he’s been throwing well. I think his fastball has some sink to it at times, and it has some cut to it at times, breaking ball and his changeup, he pitches up pretty effectively too.”
Tigers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Fulmer, “His command was obviously there early, but he made the pitches when he needed to. His slider was huge for him today, able to throw it for strikes and get some swings on it, too. It complements his fastball and how hard he throws. Whenever he wanted to get in on hitters, he was able to get in, like I said, just pitch.”
Saltalamacchia said of the scoreless-innings streak Fulmer is on, “It’s impressive. For the situations he’s been in, he’s been in some tight games like today. Bases loaded (in the fifth), didn’t give in on anybody, even though you know (Carlos) Beltran’s on deck first and second, still can’t get in on (Brett) Gardner and knowing that he looked good against Beltran in the at-bat before. That was a huge at-bat in a huge inning and that’s what he’s been doing.”
In that fifth, Fulmer walked Gardner to load the bases and got Carlos Beltran to fly out to right field to end the frame.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Fulmer is the second Major League pitcher to record at least 6.0 shutout innings and allow three hits-or-fewer in four consecutive starts since 1893, when the mound was moved to 60 feet, 6 inches away from the plate. The other pitcher was Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, who did it from September 22 of last season to his first start of this season, on April 4. Fulmer is the only pitcher to do it in a single season.
Fulmer is 5-0 with a 0.26 ERA in his last five starts, in which he has allowed just one run in 34 1/3 innings pitched.
On the biggest factor to get him through this stretch, Fulmer said, “I think it’s getting outs when I needed to. If a guy gets on, I try not to panic and try to just locate my pitches and get good action on my pitches, and like I said, let the defense work, and they usually come up pretty big.”
Fulmer was selected by the Mets in the first round (44th overall) of the 2011 MLB Draft.
2012 was his first full season in the Mets minor league season, with Single-A Savannah, and he went 7-6 with a 2.74 ERA, and 101 strikeouts in 108.1 innings pitched.
Fulmer’s 2013 season was limited to nine starts due to two separate stints on the disabled list. He went 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts with the rookie-league Gulf Coast Mets, and was 2-2 with a 3.44 ERA in seven starts at high-A Port St. Lucie.
In 2014, he went 6-10 with a 3.97 ERA in 19 starts at Port St. Lucie, and lost his one start at Double-A Binghamton.
Last season was a resurgence for Fulmer, which started with a seven-inning outing at Port St. Lucie in which he allowed three runs on four hits.
At Binghamton, Fulmer turned it on as he went 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA, with 83 strikeouts in 89 innings. He allowed just 25 runs (18 earned) and 73 hits.
After the trade to Detroit, he went to their Erie affiliate, and he went 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA in six starts, with 33 strikeouts in 31.2 innings pitched, and allowed just 10 runs and 27 hits.
Fulmer was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2015 after leading the league with a 2.14 ERA (117.2 innings pitched/28 earned runs) and a .769 winning percentage. he ranked fourth with a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) of 1.10 and a 2.28 opponent batting average.
There is no question Fulmer is an exceptional talent, and Detroit knew just who they wanted for Cespedes last summer. Detroit also acquired Luis Cessa in the trade, and they sent him to the Yankees in the offseason.
The Mets were desperate to make a run at the playoffs and knew Cespedes was the one to lead them there. The only risk was that he would leave as a free agent, and they would have traded a young talent for a rental.
Fulmer said of how he felt when the trade happened, “I was happy. It was nice to be wanted, and so far I’m trying to just convince the Tigers they didn’t make the wrong decision.”
One of the things that made Fulmer expendable from the Mets perspective is the surplus of pitching they have. It’s no different than when San Francisco was stocked with pitching in 2011 and sent Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. That did not turn out well for San Francisco, as they missed the playoffs and Beltran left as a free agent after the season.
On looking up at the Mets’ rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz while in the minor leagues, Fullmer said, “It was cool because a lot of those guys I was teammnates with in the minor leagues, so it was awesome to see guys like that succeed and get to live their dream. I knew if I kept at it and pitched the way I could, my time would come, whether it was with the Mets or this Tigers team. Where I am now, I love this team and I’m grateful fore the opportunity the Tigers have presented me.”
Fulmer said of the support he has had in Detroit, “The support of this coaching staff and this whole team, all the veteran guys on this team, it’s truly been a blessing. I’ve learned so much about the game of baseball and on the mental side of the game of baseball. I give credit to this coaching staff and these teammates for helping me along like that. I know my first few starts were a little rough, and they kind of calmed me down and, you know, said this, this, and this and kind of got me back on track. Ever since then, it’s been going well, and just trusting everything.”