Fulmer survives cold opening, melts White Sox
Chicago — Nobody is trying to make excuses. The conditions are the same for both teams.
But let’s not kid ourselves, the weather has been a factor in every game the Tigers have played this young season. The average temperature at the start of the Tigers first six games was 39 degrees.
The skies were blue and the sun was out Saturday, but the temperature at first pitch was 32 degrees. Not conducive to gripping a baseball properly to pitch and certainly not for gripping a bat to hit.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, White Sox 1
“It was cold, really cold,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It is a factor.”
But the show had to go on, and the Tigers soldiered through, beating the White Sox 6-1 behind a gritty 5⅓ scoreless innings from Michael Fulmer.
“It stunk,” Fulmer said of the day in general. “Thirty degrees. It affected everybody. But if you would have told me this morning that I wasn’t going to have my best stuff, it was going to be 30 degrees outside, but I’m going to pitch five scoreless innings and get a win — I’ll take that any day.”
Before the Tigers blew it open against White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, Fulmer extricated himself out of a serious mess in the second inning.
With home plate umpire James Hoye holding firm on a tight strike zone, Fulmer walked Welington Castillo and Tim Anderson after allowing a lead-off double to Nicky Delmonico.
“I told Mac (catcher James McCann) that I felt like a different pitcher every inning,” Fulmer said. “Because my ball was doing different things every inning.”
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In the second inning, his two-seamer was cutting and his slider was sweeping east to west instead of downward.
“Give those guys (White Sox) credit, too,” Fulmer said. “They took a lot of good sliders just off the plate and they weren’t even flinching at them. I’ve got to do a better job of throwing quality strikes as opposed to throwing chase pitches.”
Looking at the K-Zone map on Baseball Savant, though, six pitches that Hoye called balls were located within the box. And yet, somehow, Fulmer was able to regroup.
He got Yolmer Sanchez to fly out to shallow center and then struck out Adam Engel with a 96-mph fastball. It looked like he got him looking on the 2-2 pitch, but didn’t get the call from Hoye.
With two outs, Yoan Moncada hit a hard two-hopper right at second baseman Dixon Machado. Inning over.
“If the umpire’s not calling it, he’s not calling it,” Fulmer said. “I have to catch more plate and try to get soft contact. The defense was great, too. Leo (center fielder Leonys Martin) made a great throw home to keep the guy from tagging and Machy made a big play on that hard-hit ground ball.”
Fulmer worked around six hits and three walks, and needed 92 pitches to get through the 5⅓ innings. But he was tough with runners in scoring position. The White Sox were 0-for-5 against him with a runner at second or third base.
He was glad, too, after taking a 1-0 loss in his first start, for the run support on this day.
Giolito had retired six straight before things started unraveling in the third. He hit Jose Iglesias and with two outs walked both Martin and Jeimer Candelario to load the bases.
Miguel Cabrera then smoked a ground ball to right field, scoring two runs. According to MLB.com, the ball left his bat at 114.4 mph — the hardest ball he’s hit since May 30, 2015.
Cabrera knocked in the third run of the game in the fifth with a ground ball that should’ve been an inning-ending double play. Third baseman Sanchez didn’t field it cleanly and his only play was to throw out Cabrera at first.
Giolito, who walked three and hit three in 5⅔ innings, hit Victor Martinez and McCann with back-to-back pitches to start the sixth inning. Both scored on a two-out double by red-hot Machado.
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He had two hits in the game and the double was his sixth in seven games.
“He’s a really confident young man,” Gardenhire said of Machado. “He just handles himself well. He doesn’t get panicky about anything. I like his calmness on the field. He’s a very talented young man.”
The Tigers tacked on a gift run in the ninth. Right-hander Juan Minaya walked all four batters he faced, the last to McCann forcing in the sixth run. Right-hander Gregory Infante came in and got three quick outs, stranding the bases loaded.
“Our guys just kept picking away at them and picking up runs here and there,” Gardenhire said. “We also missed a lot of opportunities to score runs. But a lot of good things happened out there.
“We talked about winning the series, which we’ve done. Now let’s go out tomorrow and try to finish it off.”
Four Tigers were hit by pitches in the game, the most since four were hit in a game in Seattle in April of 1995. There were 12 walks issued, as well, eight by the White Sox.
“It’s slick but you have to get used to it,” said lefty Daniel Stumpf who got two outs in the ninth. “We’ve been playing in it for almost two weeks now. Other teams are playing in it, too. So you can’t really complain too much.”