The Detroit Tigers will use an opener in their home opener on Monday.
For Michael Fulmer, it’s more like a new beginning. Fulmer has not thrown a pitch in a regular-season game since Sept. 15, 2018. The 2016 American League Rookie of the Year missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The 27-year-old right-hander tuned up for his matchup against Central Division rival Kansas City by throwing two scoreless innings during an exhibition game at Cincinnati on Wednesday.
“It’s been a long road,” he said to the Detroit News and other media members after that stint. “I’m just ecstatic to be back. All the hard work that I put in, all the hard work the organization put in — the training staff, the strength and conditioning staff, the physical therapists — I can’t thank everybody enough.”
Fulmer has struggled with injuries since his splashy rookie season, when he posted an 11-7 record and a 3.06 ERA in 26 starts. During his third season in 2018, he battled a variety of ailments while going 3-12 with a 4.69 ERA in 24 starts.
He anticipated much better results last season before injuring his elbow during spring training.
The delayed start of this season allowed him to complete his rehab. He hasn’t quite regained his previous velocity but he was still throwing fastballs in the 93-94 mph range against the Reds. He’s also added a curveball to his arsenal.
“All these intrasquad games and live batting practices, especially the exhibition game last Wednesday, I’ve been super nervous,” he told the News. “And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s those good nerves you get from starting the home opener.”
Fulmer won’t pitch long enough to get a victory on Monday. He’s not expected to go beyond three innings during his starts.
It’s a victory just to have the one-time ace back in the rotation.
“He was one of the top pitchers in this organization, and in baseball, for a good while — headed that way, for sure,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “To go through what he’s done and fight back this long, he’s never given up. … This is a big moment for our team and it’s a big moment for him.”
Fulmer has faced the Royals nine times during his career, posting a 2-5 record with a 4.13 ERA.
The Tigers are beginning a nine-game homestand, including four games against the Royals.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery will take the mound for the Royals. He made 13 starts for Kansas City after coming over from the Chicago Cubs in a trade last July and posted a 2-7 record and 4.64 ERA. One of those victories did come against Detroit.
In four career outings against the Tigers, he’s 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA. He pitched in an exhibition game against Houston on Monday and went 3 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and five runs, though only one earned run.
“I definitely had a little more nerves when you face a team in a different uniform,” Montgomery said to MLB.com afterward. “First couple of innings, I was just trying to slow it down and get my delivery down. … All in all, I think it was OK.”
Montgomery gave up a pair of fourth-inning homers in the exhibition.
“Ramifications of this game are different than regular season. I was just trying to throw as many fastballs as I could,” he said. “That’s something I might not do in the regular season.”
The Royals dropped two of three to Cleveland in their opening series, while Detroit took two of three from Cincinnati.
–Field Level Media