Detroit Tigers' Zack Short getting closer to MLB debut; Michael Fulmer ready to start

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·6 min read
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If the Detroit Tigers need him, infielder Zack Short will be ready.

When the Tigers added first baseman Renato Nunez to the 26-man roster, thus removing him from the taxi squad, Short took his place. The squad, which gives teams extra reserves on road trips, puts the 25-year-old one step closer to his MLB debut.

"He's an overall good baseball player," manager AJ Hinch said. "Good baseball players make their way across the minor leagues and into consideration for the big leagues. If something happens, I would have all the confidence in the world that he's going to be pretty good for us."

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Detroit Tigers Zack Short throws to first during Grapefruit League action against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.
Detroit Tigers Zack Short throws to first during Grapefruit League action against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

In 17 spring training games, Short went 5-for-19 (.263) with three doubles, one home run, four RBIs, five walks and seven strikeouts. He plays second base, shortstop and third base. He missed roughly one week of games because of COVID-19 contact tracing protocols.

Last season, the Tigers acquired Short — he wasn't playing organized baseball at the time — from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline for outfielder Cameron Maybin. Immediately, Short was sent to the alternate training site in Toledo.

"In 2019, I started out in Triple-A and had that vision of getting called up that year but had some injuries," said Short, who missed most of the first half of the 2019 season because of a broken finger on his left hand.

"Obviously, last year was a gut-punch, but you feel (the debut coming). It's moving fast, but at the same time, you're just waiting for it to happen."

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Detroit Tigers infielder Zack Short takes batting practice Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.
Detroit Tigers infielder Zack Short takes batting practice Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Short hit .235 with 14 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 25 RBIs in 63 games combined at three levels of the Cubs' farm system in 2019. He spent 124 games with Double-A Tennessee in 2018, hitting .227 with 17 homers and 59 RBIs.

This offseason, Short made it his goal to make a strong first impression on Hinch and the rest of the coaching staff during camp. Although getting called up is the next step in his progression, it's unlikely to happen without an injury or a slumping teammate.

Short needs to play well in the minors, too.

"Before every game, my mom will text me, 'Enjoy the moment,'" Short said. "Taking BP at Minute Maid Park (in Houston), a lot of people would do a lot of things to be in your situation. You're not being complacent, but you're just enjoying every step of the way."

Short is the Tigers' No. 24 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He was drafted by the Cubs in the 17th round in the 2016 draft from Sacred Heart University.

"He's a steady player," Hinch said. "He does a lot of things right, seems to be in the right position at the right time. Fundamentally sound. He's got a big swing, so he can hit the ball maybe a little further and with a little more power than people would expect."

Fulmer ready for old role

For Wednesday's series finale against the Houston Astros, right-hander Michael Fulmer is returning to the starting rotation. After making his first three appearances of 2021 out of the bullpen, the 28-year-old is getting his first opportunity to start without restrictions since 2018.

The Tigers used him as a starter last year but limited him to three innings per appearance in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. He finished with an 8.78 ERA in 10 starts and 27⅔ innings.

"I'm definitely feeling better than last year," Fulmer said. "Still kind of trying something new every day and see what clicked and what didn't. But at the end of the day, if you get in there to pitch, all that stuff goes out the window, and you got to do what you have to do to get outs. That's going to be my mentality in the rotation, as well."

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Fulmer has pitched seven innings as a reliever this season, recording a 2.57 ERA and 10 strikeouts. He has yet to walk a batter. He joined the rotation when the Tigers put Julio Teheran on the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder strain.

His pitch mix shows balance: 42 sliders, 25 four-seam fastballs, 25 sinkers, 22 changeups and eight curveballs. The five-year MLB veteran — who missed all of 2019 — is also pitching aggressively again.

Fulmer's fastball has averaged 95 mph this season, up from an average of 93.2 mph last season. His strikeout rate jumped from 14.7% in 2020 to 40% in 2021 because of his confidence attacking opponents in the strike zone.

It's a small sample size, but so far, Fulmer has resembled his 2016 American League Rookie of the Year and 2017 All-Star performances. Hinch needs him to keep the same focus, even as he transitions away from the bullpen and into the rotation.

"Kind of just preparing like I would out of the bullpen," Fulmer said. "Just try to replicate that as best I can to go out for my start. Attacking and using 100% effort from pitch one. I would rather see how tired I can get later in the game than try to save some in the tank for later and be out of the game by then.

"As a starter, you train your body to go six, seven, eight, nine innings at that 100% effort mark, so we're going to try to do that tomorrow. Nothing really changes."

Another start for Turnbull

Right-hander Spencer Turnbull is lined up to pitch Thursday in an alternate training site game in Toledo against the Cincinnati Reds' farm squad. He left the team in spring training for COVID-19 protocols and wasn't cleared to return to in-person activities with the organization until just before Opening Day.

Hinch hopes Turnbull can get through four or five innings.

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It seems like Turnbull could return to the Tigers on Tuesday, barring a significant setback. The Tigers are off Monday before starting a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday at Comerica Park.

The Tigers are considering a six-man rotation when Turnbull comes back.

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' Zack Short close to MLB debut; Michael Fulmer ready