Same opponent, same results for rolling Fulmer

Same opponent, same results for rolling Fulmer

ST. PETERSBURG -- Friday was the first chance for rust to get to Michael Fulmer, making his first start in nine days. Rust didn't have a chance, and neither did the Rays in their second meeting with the Tigers' rookie starter.

"He makes it tough on lineups," Rays manager Kevin Cash said after the Tigers' 10-2 win. "You can totally understand the success he's having this year."

He's seen enough of it.

Fulmer is the first Tigers pitcher since at least 1913, as far back as records are available, to throw eight consecutive starts with one or no runs allowed, passing Justin Verlander's seven-game streak in 2011. Fulmer's streak began May 21 against the Rays with seven innings of one-run ball and 11 strikeouts, outpitching Drew Smyly at Comerica Park. Friday's matchup at Tropicana Field was eerily similar, and Fulmer topped himself.

This is the next test for Fulmer as his rookie season progresses. The Rays were the first team to see him twice. With each opponent that gets another look, Fulmer has to strike the balance between changing things up enough to keep hitters guessing and challenging hitters with what works until they show they can adjust to it.

That was Fulmer's challenge Friday. Essentially, though, it became catcher James McCann's challenge.

"I walked in today and Mac was on the computer watching my last start against these guys," Fulmer said. "I do my research, but he does a ton."

McCann left a lot of choices up to Fulmer, but his preference was clear.

"They have to make the adjustment first," McCann said. "As a pitcher, when you've had the success that he's had, you have to stick with what works until they prove that they're going to adjust."

The one Rays hitter that got Fulmer last time was Evan Longoria, whose solo homer off a fastball his third time up was the last run the righty allowed before he started his streak of 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

Longoria struck out on an awkward check swing at Fulmer's slider to end the first inning Friday, part of an 0-for-3 night he had against the righty. But the way Fulmer was pitching, a lot of Rays went down swinging.

All 10 of Fulmer's strikeouts were swinging third strikes. He induced a half-dozen swings-and-misses in his first two innings, 10 through four innings, and 18 over his seven scoreless innings. Most came off the combination of a fastball that topped out at 98 mph and a changeup in the mid to lower 80s.

"It felt like his fastball was a little bit crisper," McCann said, "but his changeup had a lot of depth and a lot of action. I thought that was as impressive as anything."

Said Fulmer: "I threw a fair amount of changeups, fair amount of sliders, but I think the biggest thing was fastball command, changing eye levels -- in and out, up and down. Getting to two strikes was huge for me, being able to tinker with some pitches."

Do that, and it might not matter what opponents have seen from him before. His toughest foe might be the innings limits the Tigers place on him. That will get him again with a long rest around the All-Star break. Before then, though, he gets a second chance at Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for 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.