Change for the better: Fulmer mystifies Rays

After adding changeup to repertoire, Tigers top prospect fans 11 over seven innings

Change for the better: Fulmer mystifies Rays

DETROIT -- Tigers top prospect Michael Fulmer came into his fifth career start Saturday having never gone deeper than the fifth inning. He had not struck out more than six batters in a game. He had typically only relied on his fastball and his slider.

All of that changed when the 23-year-old fanned 11 Rays over seven innings while featuring a changeup to lead the Tigers to a 5-4 win. It was his first start at Comerica Park after four outings on the road.

Tigers' Top 30 Prospects

Fulmer became the fourth Tigers pitcher since 1913 to strike out 11 or more batters in one of his first five Major League appearances, joining Jack Morris (July 31, 1977, at Texas), Denny McLain (Sept. 29, 1963, at Baltimore) and Ralph Comstock (Sept. 1, 1913, vs. St. Louis Browns).

Fulmer said he wanted to do a better job of throwing strikes than he had in his previous four outings, and he felt he did that Saturday, as he threw 69 of his 106 pitches for strikes.

"I wanted to pound the zone, and I've been wanting to do that for the last four starts," Fulmer said. "Luckily tonight, everything was working tonight and (James McCann) did a great job behind the plate, pitch-calling and keeping my head level."

Fulmer gets out of early trouble

Fulmer used a changeup to confuse the Tampa Bay hitters, getting four of his strikeouts with that pitch. McCann said the changeup is something that Fulmer has been focusing on in bullpen sessions with pitching coach Rich Dubee.

"I told him, 'Early on, we're going to use it, and let you get a feel for it,' and he got a feel for it from the second batter, on," McCann said. "First one he threw, he felt great about it, and it was really his X-factor today."

Fulmer said the changeup's effectiveness early on is what made his fastball so effective later. He got his final two strikeouts courtesy of 97-mph fastballs.

Manager Brad Ausmus said the changeup will be key to future success with Fulmer as a starter.

"If he's going to be a starting pitcher long-term, I think the changeup -- or some pitch like it -- is going to be very important for him," Ausmus said. "Against left-handed hitters especially, although he used it against some right-handed hitters today."

Fulmer gave up a leadoff double and a walk in the first inning, but managed to escape with no damage. After the walk, he retired 15 of 16 batters, including a four-pitch fourth inning.

"I'm just looking for early contact and early outs, and try to pitch as deep into the game as I can," Fulmer said.

Fulmer's win gave the Tigers their fifth win in six games after losing 11 out of 12.

Kyle Beery is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.