By: Will Burchfield
Michael Fulmer has a lot in common with his new pitching coach Chris Bosio, some of which meets the eye.
He winds up in the same manner, stepping subtly toward the first base side of the mound as he drops his glove to belt level, lifting his left leg purposefully into the air as he brings his hands back toward his chest, and then pulling the ball from his glove and springing toward home plate. He has the same overhand delivery. He lands with the same little bounce in his right foot.
His arsenal even features the same out-pitch: the changeup. Those are the visual similarities.
Fulmer also shares Bosio’s forthright nature, his knack for putting things as they are. Neither man minces words. It’s little surprise that the 24-year-old Fulmer has enjoyed working with the 54-year-old Bosio over the first few weeks of spring training.
“He’s awesome, he’s full of energy. He’s very positive, he’ll tell you if you’re doing really well,” Fulmer told MLB Network. “He’ll also tell you that you suck sometimes in your bullpen. I may have had that happen to me a couple times, but he knows what he’s talking about.”
Fulmer smiled. He first got a feel for Bosio’s enthusiasm shortly after the Tigers hired him last fall. Bosio dropped Fulmer a phone call as if they were longtime buds to share some pointers he gathered from watching film. The two hadn’t even met yet, and Bosio was trying to help Fulmer with his slider.
“He called me to kind of introduce himself and the first thing he said was, ‘Hey, you’re going to need to land softer on your front side on your slider, so work on that your next bullpen,'” Fulmer recalled.
At the time, Fulmer was already down in Lakeland at the Tigers’ spring training facility. He quickly took Bosio’s advice to heart. Then he texted his coach a picture of his progress, specifically showing his back leg in a higher position on his followthrough. Replied Bosio, who’s uniquely qualified to assess Fulmer’s delivery, “That’s perfect.”
How does that help Fulmer?
“It’s just being able to get over my front knee a little better, especially on the slider, and getting a little more extension and making sure that ball’s down,” he said.
Like almost any pitcher, Fulmer is better when he lives low in the zone. In fact, he can be flat-out dominant, as he was in 2016 when he won AL Rookie of the Year and as he was for most of 2017 when he earned an invite to the All-Star Game. Last season affirmed Fulmer’s status as one of the brightest young pitchers in the game.
It also ended early for Fulmer due to nerve translocation surgery in his right elbow. It was a relatively minor procedure, one he underwent to eliminate some disconcerting tingling in the fingers on his throwing hand.
His rehab over the winter went smoothly, and Fulmer entered spring training feeling like his normal self. That’s how he looked in his first exhibition start last week.
“All systems go here. The tingliness, the can’t feel my fingers, it caused some havoc during the season at some points, but we were stoked that the surgery went well. I was down here for most of the offseason and had a good throwing program,” Fulmer said. “I’m ecstatic to say that I’m finally back to 100 percent.”
As much as he’s hit it off with Bosio, so has Fulmer grown fond of his new skipper, 60-year-old Ron Gardenhire. The two share Oklahoman roots.
“He’s a fellow Oakie, so I have to treat him right and welcome him with open arms and give him some of that Southern hospitality,” Fulmer said. “But we’re all excited to see him and the way he runs things. He’s a big we’re-gonna-have-fun guy. The first day of camp he was up there taking ground balls at first base during practice. We were just happy that he made it out without pulling a hamstring.”
And the Tigers are happy that Fulmer, their undisputed ace with Justin Verlander no longer around, has made it back on the mound. Gardenhire and Bosio will face plenty of challenges this season with a young roster, but Fulmer is one player who will make their respective jobs easier.