By: Will Burchfield
Michael Fulmer was in chapel, perhaps looking for a blessing.
The Tigers had one to deliver. But they didn’t know where he was.
“They were looking for me when Al (Avila) was down here. They finally found me and called up to Al and told him to get back down here (to the clubhouse),” Fulmer said.
The Tigers GM scurried downstairs and walked into Brad Ausmus’ office, where he found Fulmer, Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee.
“Al just reaches out to me and says, ‘Congrats.’ And Brad said, ‘Well, I haven’t told him anything yet.’ And Al said, ‘Well I guess you know now,'” said Fulmer, chuckling at the memory.
The secret that Avila spoiled was that Fulmer is going to the All-Star Game.
“It’s a blessing, it truly is,” said Fulmer. “I didn’t think much into it until Brad told me earlier today. Just to have the respect and votes from my peers and coaches, it’s just an honor to be able to represent the Tigers.”
Among A.L. starting pitchers, Fulmer ranks sixth in ERA (3.19), eighth in WHIP (1.13) and eighth in innings pitched (101 2/3). He has given up three earned runs or less in all but two of his 15 starts this season.
“He’s been by far our most consistent pitcher,” said Ausmus. “Last year I thought he kind of deserved to go, but he wasn’t a well-known name. This year everyone in baseball is aware of who he is after the Rookie-of-the-Year season, and he’s picked up right where he left off. He’s more than deserving.”
Fulmer, a 24-year-old as humble as they come, has a hard time wrapping his head around his own success. Since setting off an a historic scoreless-innings streak last May, he’s been one of the most dominant starters in the game.
Asked if he could have imagined any of this at the beginning of last season, Fulmer said, “Not even in a dream. The past year has been what I’ve been thinking of my whole life, but not on this scale. So when I heard the news I was kind of in shock by it.”
His wife was the first person he told. In fact, she was the only person he told prior to Major League Baseball announcing the news. He was wary others wouldn’t be able to keep it confidential.
“I feel like everyone else in my family would let it loose before it’s supposed to be,” Fulmer cracked. “I don’t trust my parents or my friends. I guess I can say I trust my wife.”
It’s unclear at this point if Fulmer will be able to take the mound in the Midsummer Classic, which will be held on Tuesday, July 11 in Miami. Pitchers who start on the preceding Sunday are not eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game. At the moment, Fulmer is slated to start next Sunday versus the Indians.
If he does pitch for the A.L., there are two N.L. hitters he’d like to face.
“(Nolan) Arenado would be pretty cool to pitch to honestly. I would say Buster Posey, but they’re (the Giants) are coming in here next series, so don’t wanna say that,” Fulmer said with a smile. “Obviously it’s gonna be a lineup full of great hitters and I guess we’ll see how my stuff plays for an inning or so — or an out or so.”
Even if he can’t pitch, Fulmer expects to have plenty of fun in Miami, a city he’s never been to.
“There’s multiple options, I can go down there and enjoy myself and not do anything,” he said. “Of course the competitive side of me wants to at least get an out, so I think we’ll discuss it with the organization and Brad and Al and Dubie and the front-office guys.”
Fulmer is excited for the entire experience. He plans to talk to as many of his fellow All-Stars as he can, soak up all the advice they have to offer and maybe even seek out a few autographs.
“I don’t know what to expect. I’ve seen it on TV, watched it every year, but to be a part of the festivities and the recognition of all these stars, this is gonna be something I’ll never forget,” he said.
Fulmer will be the Tigers’ only representative in Miami. Justin Verlander, who’s been to six All-Star Games himself, is happy his comrade in the rotation is getting the recognition he deserves.
“Really excited for him, he’s earned it. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the league since he came up last year,” said Verlander.
Catcher Alex Avila has gained a first-hand appreciation for Fulmer this season behind the plate. Asked what stands out about the second-year pro, Avila pointed to his maturity and control.
“He’s kind of a rare breed where he’s a younger guy with power stuff that he’s able to command. He knows his mechanics, he knows his style of pitching, he’s able to pitch to the game, which is important. Some guys have a hard time pitching with leads and I think he understands how to do that,” Avila said.
Ausmus said one of his favorite parts of being a manager is telling players they’ve made the All-Star Game. Their reactions are always so pure.
So, how did Fulmer react?
“He was pissed,” Ausmus said. “No, he was obviously excited about it. I mean, who’s not excited about being named to the All-Star Game? Now keep in mind, he is always very reserved in his emotional responses, but you could tell he was excited about it, even for him.”
But don’t expect Fulmer to rest on his laurels. (Remember, this is a guy who works as a plumber in the offseason.) Despite his Rookie of the Year award and his All-Star Game selection, he still doesn’t consider himself one of the best players in the game.
“Not yet. I know a lot of these guys have been playing for tens of years and a lot of ‘em are going to be playing for a lot more. My ultimate goal is to play this great game as long as I can, so I feel like this is just a starting point.”