Tigers keeping close eye on Fulmer's innings

Detroit hopes to avoid shutting down rookie in final month of season

Tigers keeping close eye on Fulmer's innings

DETROIT -- The Tigers have some sorting out to do with their rotation, with three pitchers potentially up for two spots. That was part of the reason behind the moves to bring back Daniel Norris from Triple-A Toledo to start Thursday, bring in Anibal Sanchez from the bullpen to start Saturday and push back Mike Pelfrey to next Tuesday.

Who goes forward in the rotation from there isn't planned yet. But the other part of the moves, watching the innings workload on rookie sensation Michael Fulmer, is getting some definition.

While manager Brad Ausmus won't confirm Fulmer being skipped in the rotation, he did say the moves give him the flexibility to push Fulmer -- who allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings during Wednesday's 5-1 win against the Mariners -- back and save a start before the All-Star break.

It's not an easy decision, the way Fulmer has been pitching. But it's easier than shutting him down for the season in September.

"You have to take the long view," Ausmus said. "If we can get him a few less innings now but still have him available the last month of the season, I think that's probably the smarter way to go."

Fulmer entered Wednesday's game averaging just under six innings a start in his first 11 big league outings. If he kept up that pace and made every turn through the rotation, he'd be on pace for just over 170 innings. He pitched 124 2/3 innings last season in the Minors.

"No one really knows what the ideal amount is," Ausmus said. "People like to say 25 or 30 percent more than the following year, in terms of innings, but people are still getting hurt all the time. I don't know if there's any right answer, but we just have to be a little bit cautious with him."

A 25-30 percent bump from last year's innings total would put Fulmer around 155-160 innings. Even on the generous end, that leaves some innings to shave off his pace.

"We'd like to not be caught where we have to shut him down," Ausmus said. "It would be very difficult. That's why we want to use caution now, to hopefully avoid that later."

Next month's four-day All-Star break affords them some opportunity as well, though at this rate of success, Fulmer could warrant some consideration for an All-Star spot and an inning in the game.

The Tigers play two weeks straight leading into the All-Star break, and then 13 days in a row coming out of it. They could get another opportunity to rest Fulmer in early August, with two off-days in an 11-day stretch, but they haven't planned that far ahead yet.

"We've looked towards the end of July," Ausmus said.

As for Norris, Sanchez and Pelfrey, Ausmus didn't want to call this next week or so an audition. But he acknowledged they'll have some decisions to make after that.

"We'll just see how the guys pitch," Ausmus said, "and we'll make a decision. We're just going to see how it goes. Hopefully they all pitch well and it's an extremely difficult decision. I just want the guys to go out and pitch their game, and pitch well."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.