Detroit Tigers' Michael Fulmer ready to return in 2020: 'Best shape I've ever seen'
The return of right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, helps the cause.
He was cleared by medical staff last week and pitched simulated games at the team facility in Lakeland, Florida, before the MLB shut down all spring training sites June 19 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Fulmer, 27, last pitched in the big leagues on Sept. 15, 2018, when he gave up two home runs on five pitches without recording an out. Since then, he's undergone right knee surgery and Tommy John surgery.
"He looks great," said Gardenhire, who went to Lakeland a few times to check on Fulmer. "He's in the best shape I've ever seen. He says his knee feels great, his elbow feels great. So, you know what, put him out there, and let's see what happens."
Before Fulmer's return, the Tigers were expected to start left-handers Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris and righties Jordan Zimmermann, Ivan Nova and Spencer Turnbull. It's unclear what the rotation will look like with Fulmer in the mix, but Boyd is ready with open arms.
"It's awsome to have an arm like Michael back," Boyd said, "and I know that it's going to be really exciting to know that's another cog in our staff. Man, it's another weapon that we're going to have.
"We have pitching. We're going to be good, and I'm excited about it. We're all excited about it."
In 2016, Fulmer went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 26 starts (159 innings) with 132 strikeouts and 42 walks. In 2017, in which he was an AL All-Star, he had a 3.83 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 164 ⅔ innings across 25 starts.
But Fulmer's production fell in 2018 due to injury issues. He went 3-12 with a 4.69 ERA in 24 starts and a 110/46 strikeout/walk ratio.
"He's been out a long time," Gardenhire said. "Throwing live BPs and all of those things is not the same as getting into a game, covering first base and all that stuff. He'll gonna have to show us he can do those things. What if he gets into a rundown or has to field a bunt? I know he's been working on some of those things, but the game situation is so much different than practice.
"So there's a lot of things that he's gonna have to show us he can do."
Free Press writer Anthony Fenech contributed to this report.