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What Detroit Tigers' Michael Fulmer leaving camp means for his spring training schedule

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — On Friday night, Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer packed his bags and left the team's spring training facility. He went home to Oklahoma, where his wife, Kelsey, gave birth to their second child.

So much for Fulmer's start Monday against the New York Yankees in Tampa.

But don't worry. Fulmer, 27, will return soon, after going through another round of COVID-19 intake screening. Manager AJ Hinch expects him back in Lakeland early next week.

"He won't miss anything," Hinch said Saturday. "If we had not had that conversation about starting him early, you guys would think that I was starting him perfectly on time. He's going to get the same amount of games that he would have gotten."

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Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer throws during his bullpen session Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, on the Tiger Town practice fields at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. Monday was the first day position players joined pitchers and catchers for spring training.

Righty Kyle Funkhouser is taking Fulmer's place in the second Grapefruit League contest.

"He was going to pitch, and we didn't want to unravel the plans we had to put in place around him," Hinch said. "We have a plan mapped out for every starter. Funk's done it before, so it was pretty simple just to slide him in."

Left-hander Tyler Alexander will start Detroit's first spring training game, Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Tigers have 29 exhibition games through March 30, including 15 games at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Manning confident

So far, so good between top prospect Matt Manning and pitching coach Chris Fetter. The 23-year-old is likely to start the season in Triple-A Toledo, but it likely won't be long before he reaches the majors.

To find success, Fetter is teaching him new tricks.

"He wanted to focus more on my back leg stability, kind of anchoring it into the ground and then just moving quick," Manning said Saturday. "Being athletic, trusting what I can do.

"I'm trying to make the team out of spring. I'm going to try to be one of those top 26. That's my goal, but everything else is left up to them to make decisions for the team. That's my focus every day."

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Manning had a 2.56 ERA, 148 strikeouts and 38 walks across 133⅔ innings for Double-A Erie in 2019, making 24 starts. He has four years in the minors, with a combined 3.04 ERA, after being selected No. 9 overall in the 2016 draft.

"He's going to get an opportunity, he's earned that, as long as he stays healthy," Hinch said. "But he's got to stay away from the press clippings, and he does, and more on the field. The more we hammer that home, the easier it is for him to digest."

Teheran is ready

The newest pitcher in camp is right-hander Julio Teheran. The 30-year-old joined last week on a minor-league contract. If he makes the Opening Day roster, he earns $3 million.

"I accept the challenge, and that's why I decided to come here and try to help the team," Teheran said Saturday. "I need to go out and own my spot, but it's always been like that."

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Julio Teheran who pitched last season with the Los Angeles Angels signed with the Detroit Tigers Tuesday.

Teheran, a former two-time All-Star, carried a combined 3.67 ERA across nine years (2011-19) with the Atlanta Braves. Then, he stumbled in the 2020 season with the Los Angeles Angels, after contracting COVID-19.

He finished last year with a 10.05 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 16 walks. He pitched in 31⅓ innings across 10 games (nine starts). 

On Friday, Teheran pitched a bullpen on his first day with his new team. He will get a live batting practice session before he makes his Grapefruit League debut — but he doesn't feel too far behind schedule.

With an opportunity to make the starting rotation, Teheran is eager for improvement.

"I feel like I can do it, I can do this," Teheran said. "I can make the team. I can do my best to make the team and win games, and that's what I'm here for."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.