DETROIT (CBS Detroit) — On September 1, 2016, the Detroit Tigers were tied for a Wild Card spot after a challenging summer.
Plagued by injury and misfortune for the past five months, the Tigers were lucky to be in that position so late in the year. Credit was given partially to the emergence of a surprising young pitcher who helped steady the team’s rocky pitching rotation.
Michael Fulmer was coming off a rough month of August, but showed signs of brilliance throughout his first season in the Major Leagues. But he was approaching the inevitable rookie wall and a question still remained: how many innings can this 23-year-old handle?
The Tigers decided to push back a few of Fulmer’s final starts while the team was in the midst of a tight playoff chase. They would end up missing out on the postseason by 2.5 games and were sent home packing early for the second straight season.
What would’ve happened if Fulmer got a couple more starts? The topic was hotly debated around town, but Fulmer agrees with the organization’s decision to limit his innings.
“Toward the end of the year [my] body felt good, ball was coming out good, I just kind of lacked the execution there the last month of the season or so,” Fulmer told Dan Dickerson and Pat Caputo on TigerTalk on Monday.
“Without the coaching staff and the front office guys kind of pushing me back a few starts here and there — I think they did obviously the right thing — it allowed me to stay healthy throughout the year,” Fulmer said.
Despite posting a 2-5 record with a 3.94 ERA in the months of August and September, Fulmer would go on to win the American League’s Rookie of the Year award for his breakout season.
The highly-touted prospect who came to the Tigers organization in 2015 as a part of the Yoenis Cespedes trade didn’t show signs of the moment being too big for him. In one of his final starts of the season, he shutout the Texas Rangers on the road in front of his friends and family who drove in from his hometown of Oklahoma City.
“You just have to tell yourself, ‘it’s a game’ and this is the best game in the world so I just try to enjoy playing it and have fun doing it and just kind of tell myself not to take any moment for granted,” Fulmer said. “You never know when your last pitch could be, especially as a pitcher throwing that many times with your arm and everything.”
Fulmer wasn’t the only impressive young pitcher the Tigers trotted out to the mound last season. Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd helped fill in while veteran starters Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey hit the D.L.
The trio looks to have the making of a formidable rotation for the Tigers going forward.
“Those two guys — Daniel and Matt — they have really good heads on their shoulders, they’re looking to learn every single day,” Fulmer said. “They’re both around me 24/7 during the season and I couldn’t ask for two better guys to ride this roller coaster with.”
Fulmer found individual success during his rookie campaign, but his sights are always on his team.
“Hopefully this year as a team we’ll make it a little further and reach that ultimate goal of winning a World Series for Detroit,” Fulmer said.