Detroit Tigers might adjust roles for Michael Fulmer, Tarik Skubal entering road trip

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read
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There's nothing wrong with right-hander Michael Fulmer, but the Detroit Tigers are considering sending him back to the bullpen.

Manager AJ Hinch is thinking about going to a five-man rotation, at least throughout the upcoming nine-game road trip to Chicago, New York and Boston, which would insert rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal into the starting rotation.

Recently, the Tigers have operated under a modified six-man rotation, using five starters — Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Jose Urena, Casey Mize and Fulmer — with Skubal pitching as a reliever in tandem with Fulmer.

"We have off days (May 3, May 10) coming up," Hinch said Monday. "It gets a little bit tricky to mix in a six-man rotation."

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Tarik Skubal needed 61 pitches to get through 2 2/3 innings Sunday against the Royals, but 12 of them were swinging strikes.
Tarik Skubal needed 61 pitches to get through 2 2/3 innings Sunday against the Royals, but 12 of them were swinging strikes.

The second reason for Fulmer's potential return to the bullpen: Hinch views him as an "extra weapon" capable of helping the Tigers win close games. His fastball averages 95 mph and hitters are struggling with a .125 batting average (and 10 strikeouts) against his slider.

Through 22 games, Detroit's relievers carry a 6.11 ERA, the worst in MLB. The starting rotation has performed much better, with a 3.83 ERA, good for the 11th best in the majors and fourth best in the American League.

The Tigers already have their starters penciled in for the upcoming three-game series with the White Sox: Urena on Tuesday, Mize on Wednesday and Boyd on Thursday. Hinch seems to be leaning toward starting Skubal on Friday — rather than Fulmer — for the series opener with the Yankees, before going to Turnbull on Saturday.

"We're considering putting Fulmer (in the bullpen) and making him available in the Chicago series out of the 'pen again," Hinch said. "And going to a five-man rotation, with Tarik being in it. We haven't really talked it through until we get through the bullpen session in a couple of days. But that's under consideration for the New York series."

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Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer throws against the Royals on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer throws against the Royals on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Comerica Park.

Load management is another factor the organization is keeping in mind when figuring out how to best use Fulmer and Skubal. Each pitcher is facing innings limits in 2021 — Fulmer because of his past injuries; Skubal because he hasn't ever pitched a full big-league season.

Fulmer, 28, has a 3.32 ERA across 19 innings in six games (three starts) this season. He has allowed four walks and struck out 17 batters. Skubal, 24, is riding a 5.21 ERA through 19 innings in five games (three starts). He has 12 walks to 17 strikeouts.

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In Sunday's 4-0 loss, Skubal allowed two runs in 2⅔ innings out of the bullpen, after Fulmer pitched three scoreless frames on three days of rest. His fastball velocity returned to the mid-90s, but he was forced to labor (61 pitches for eight outs) because of strike-throwing inconsistencies.

"From a stuff and pitch execution standpoint, I thought I did pretty well," Skubal said after his outing. "I don't think the results matched how I felt. I'm not really too concerned about the results. There's growth in everything."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers might adjust roles for Michael Fulmer, Tarik Skubal