Carson Fulmer grew up a Detroit Tigers fan. Now the organization is his second chance

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

New Detroit Tigers right-hander Carson Fulmer used to be one of the most coveted players on the planet.

A dominant pitcher over three years at Vanderbilt, a member of the United States collegiate national team, SEC Pitcher of the Year and National Pitcher of the Year — he earned too many accolades to count. Selected No. 8 overall by the Chicago White Sox in 2015, he seemed destined for greatness.

But everything fell apart.

Fulmer, 26, said he thinks mechanical changes are to blame, but he’s not sure. Maybe he tried to do too much. Either way, complexity led to his demise in Chicago, where he had a 6.56 ERA across four seasons.

On Thursday, the White Sox designated him for assignment.

The Tigers swooped in, giving Fulmer a chance to start anew with manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson. They added him to the big-league roster Saturday and optioned righty reliever David McKay to the alternate training site in Toledo.

“The organization really believes in me to go out there and help us win,” Fulmer said Sunday. “I’m really looking forward to this, going to be really, really good for me. Very thankful to have the opportunity to pitch for this organization.”

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Detroit Tigers right-handed reliever Carson Fulmer speaks about joining the team, July 26, 2020.

What makes Fulmer ecstatic to join the Tigers isn’t just a second chance amid the COVID-19 pandemic and shortened season. From Lakeland, Florida, he spent many childhood days at Joker Marchant Stadium and is a lifelong fan of the team.

When Detroit came to town for spring training, Fulmer leapt at each opportunity to watch from the seats.

"It's definitely something special to be able to put on these colors and rep an organization that has such a great history," Fulmer said. "I'm looking forward to being here for a while."

If Fulmer wants to stick around, however, there's a lot he must prove.

Through eight games this spring, he registered a 2.61 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, 13 strikeouts and six walks in 10⅓ innings. Pitching consistently for the first time since college, the coronavirus-induced hiatus severely affected his chances of making the White Sox's 30-man roster.

"He's a high-velocity guy," Gardenhire said Saturday. "He throws the living fire out of the ball. He has had a tendency to misfire a little bit. We're going to have to get him to throw the ball over the plate. With that stuff, he should be successful."

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Carson Fulmer (51)  is relieved by Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria (36) against Tampa Bay in the eighth inning on April 8, 2019.

Fulmer had mixed emotions when he was designated for assignment, but once he was claimed by the Tigers, he said he felt "a lot of weight" come off his shoulders.

He's searching for his rhythm, though he thinks he's close. 

"At the end of the day, I really want to get back to who I am, and that's pitching with my mentality and competitiveness," Fulmer said. "I love to win. Putting mechanics aside, putting all of the analytical stuff aside, all the stuff that is in baseball now, just getting back to who I am.

"That's competing at the highest level, winning at the highest level and giving my team the best chance to win. That's something I've lost the last couple of years."

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And he'll try to do so alongside right-hander Beau Burrows, outfielder Christin Stewart and left-hander Tyler Alexander — all three were picked by the Tigers after Fulmer in the 2015 draft.

He lives in Matthew Boyd's hometown of Issaquah, Washington. He has played quite a bit against catcher Grayson Greiner, and right-hander Kyle Funkhouser was his teammate in summer college ball.

The list goes on. He has either played against or with many on the Tigers' roster, which makes him more comfortable joining for the 60-game sprint.

"I'm extremely confident," Fulmer said. "I always trust my ability to go out there and have success, and I think that I'm definitely going to get off on the right foot here."

Who piggybacks the other Fulmer?

Right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer is set to make his first appearance since 2018 as he'll be the starter when the Tigers return to Comerica Park on Monday. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, he isn’t going to pitch deep into the game.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer gets his first game action since elbow ligament reconstruction surgery at Comerica Park in Detroit, Wednesday, July 8, 2020.

“If he has three quick innings, we could let him go another one,” Gardenhire said. “We’re definitely not going to leave him out there for six or seven innings or anything like that. The plan is, he’s our opener. 

“If we get three out of him, we’re going to be really comfortable with him doing that for a while.”

That’s where Alexander may fit in a piggyback role.

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But in Saturday’s 6-4 win, the Tigers needed Alexander for 1⅔ innings after starter Ivan Nova pitched five innings. Alexander and Fulmer followed a similar pitching schedule in summer camp, along with working together in Wednesday’s exhibition.

Gardenhire isn’t ready to say who will follow Fulmer, but he assumes Alexander will move into a full-time bullpen role rather than into the rotation.

“We got plenty of options out there, guys that can go after that,” he said. “We’ll definitely find other ways.”

Maybin fine, lineup changes

Right fielder Cameron Maybin left Saturday’s game with cramps in both calves and sat out Sunday's series finale. Gardenhire started Victor Reyes in his place, but that had nothing to do with Maybin’s exit.

Sunday would’ve been the veteran’s day off regardless.

“It’s going to be really hot today,” Gardenhire said. “We had a few guys a little dinged up. (JaCoby) Jones’ back was barking a little bit, but we called him, and he said he’s fine. We’re going to try to use everybody.”

Two other players — Greiner and third baseman Harold Castro — will make their first start of the season Sunday.

Gardenhire doesn’t expect Maybin, who is 0-for-6 in two games, to miss time.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold