Lakeland, Fla. – On the walk-up to the TigerTown administrative offices at about 7:30 Friday morning, out in the mist on the short field alongside the batting cages, was Michael Fulmer, in uniform, throwing long toss in preparation for a bullpen session.
The refining of his lower-body mechanics, which the club issued as the reason they were taking him out of the spring rotation for now, has begun.
“After my last start, I told you guys (media) I just wanted to be a little more explosive,” he said. “I think for what we are trying to do, I think it’s better for us to work on it in bullpens, rather than going into a game and trying to overthrow and trying to see my velocity back.
“If something doesn’t feel like it’s pushing off as it should, you try to make up for it somewhere else.”
Like by over-extending his arm and core muscles, which could lead to other medical issues.
“My last start I was trying to overthrow a little bit more,” he said. “That’s when I told Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) and the trainers that I felt like I was using all arm now out there. My stuff was still pretty good from my perspective, but obviously the velocity wasn’t there.
“It hasn’t gone away. It’s in there somewhere. We just have to find a way to get back to where we were before.”
Fulmer now is trying to wean himself off the bulky-looking brace he’d been wearing on his surgically-repaired right knee. In its place Friday was a compression sleeve. He’s working in the weight room on reactivating the fast-twitch fibers in his lower half and rebuilding the explosiveness that he once had in his delivery, the explosiveness that allowed him to throw consistently at 96-97 mph.
His velocity this spring has sat at 90-92.
“Maybe it was a little restrictive,” Fulmer said of the brace. “Today was a step in the right direction as far as using my lower body and trying to drive toward home plate, as opposed to basically not using my lower body at all.”
The Tigers announced, in a two-sentence statement Thursday, that Fulmer was taking a step back to work on refining his mechanics and no timetable was set for his return to game action. He was pulled from his scheduled start Friday and would have had only two starts left before the season opens.
“I don’t know how long this is going to take,” Fulmer said. “But I am going to make sure I feel good about this before going into game action. Obviously, this (shut down) was a whole team decision. They set me down and asked me how exactly I was feeling.
“I told them I need to be more explosive. That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to accomplish now.”
Understand, the surgery that Dr. James Andrews performed on Fulmer last September was the second time the meniscus had been repaired in five years. And it was far from a routine surgery. The cartilage on the lateral side of his knee was badly frayed. So, besides the meniscectomy, Andrews also had to perform a modified micro-fracture technique on the bone, called a chondroplasty, to facilitate better blood flow in the area.
“Everything felt good,” Fulmer said after the bullpen session on Friday. “They take measurements on the knee every day as far as swelling. And it has actually gone down the last two days, which is surprising, since we’ve been doing all the work without the brace, trying to get back to normal.”
It seems probable at this point, though, that Fulmer will start the season on the injured list, and rebuild his pitch-count during extended spring training.
“Obviously, the goal is to be ready for the start of the season,” he said. “But I don’t know. I can’t tell you. It depends on how these next few bullpens go. But I guarantee, as soon as I feel like I am ready, I will get back out there.”
Fulmer was stretched out to just 44 pitches in his first three starts this spring. And he admitted, with the brace off now, he’s essentially rebuilding his mechanics from square one.
“Frustration is a big part of it,” Fulmer said. “But with frustration comes joy in the success. You have to grind through these times. And as much as I want to be out there every fifth day, it’s just not going to be advantageous to just keep going out and trying to give 110 percent.
“I have to take the time to wind back down and start from the ground up as far as my mechanics.”
The setback to Fulmer opens a door in the Tigers’ rotation. Spencer Turnbull, who took Fulmer’s start Friday, Daniel Norris and Ryan Carpenter are all in the hunt for that opening.