Despite the loss, Fulmer performs like an ace

Despite the loss, Fulmer performs like an ace

SEATTLE -- The Tigers lately have been doing what they need to be doing. Michael Fulmer has been doing the same, and the concurrence of such events can be described as mutually beneficial.

That's why Monday night's outing by the Tigers' superb rookie right-hander at Safeco Field, while technically a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners that stalled Detroit's post-All-Star break momentum, was more proof that the Tigers have a real ace to lean on during what they hope will be a lengthy postseason run.

And the main reason? He wasn't quite as sharp as he has been but found a way to be effective.

"That shows signs of growing and maturing," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was behind the plate for Fulmer's seven-inning, two-run start. All of the damage against Fulmer came in the second, when Nelson Cruz led off with a double, Kyle Seager shot a ground ball up the middle for an RBI single, and after a one-out walk to Leonys Martin, Mike Zunino hit a soft line-drive single to make it 2-0.

After that, Fulmer got through five innings unscathed, giving up only two more hits, both singles, one on a bunt. He finished with six strikeouts and one walk. His season ERA is 2.43 as the summer turns into a full-fledged pennant race.

"He's able to find a way to get through it," Saltalamacchia continued. "He's got a good fastball, so it's just trying to not make mistakes, obviously, in big situations, and he did a good job. He kept us in the game."

How good has Fulmer been? It's hard to imagine where the Tigers would be without him.

He's made 18 starts since he debuted in the Major Leagues this season and has given up more than three runs only three times, and only once since May 15. Monday marked his third consecutive quality start.

"I felt good," Fulmer said. "I felt strong, and as the game went on I felt stronger. It was just that one inning where they strung a few hits together, there was some bad luck, and I gave up the two runs in that one inning. But I knew after that I needed to put zeros up the rest of the way and try to get as deep into the game as I could."

Fulmer was asked about the increased pressure that comes as the season goes on and the adrenaline of postseason contention. He said he just needs to do his job. He was asked about pitch location and said he was happy with his execution Monday, for the most part.

"I feel like my misses were in the right spots," Fulmer said. "When I was trying to go away to a lefty, the ball was just off the plate away. When I tried to go in, it was just off in. So I think as far as that goes, I think I didn't miss middle too much, so I think it was just one inning, and after that it felt great."

If this is a bad Fulmer start, the Tigers have a huge reason to feel great, too. He grinded out seven innings on a night when Detroit's bullpen needed rest. He handled a hostile road environment, and he continued to build his case for an American League Rookie of the Year Award.

The only thing he didn't do was win.

"He did a nice job," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "Two runs in seven innings. Generally, that's going to be enough for this team to win. Just tonight, it wasn't our night offensively."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.