Welcome to Detroit, Michael Fulmer. Like, for good this time. Fulmer all but cemented his place in the Tigers' rotation with a dominant outing against the Oakland Athletics five days ago, inducing off-balance swing after off-balance swing en route to 7 2/3 shutout innings. This came on the heels of an 11-strikeout performance against the Tampa Bay Rays, the likes of which the Tigers aren't getting from 60 percent of their starting rotation right now (at least, until Jordan Zimmermann returns from injury).
If there were any chance of Fulmer returning to the minors when Shane Greene comes off the disabled list, it likely ended on Tuesday. Between Fulmer's emergence as a legitimate major league starter and Anibal Sanchez's continued subpar performance, the decision should be easy for Tigers brass.
Sure, there will be bumps in the road for Fulmer. He has been a bit homer-prone at times, and he will be asked to throw more innings than ever before as the Tigers continue to chase their playoff dreams. There are no kid gloves anymore, as the Tigers need their 23-year-old righthander to be great right now. So far, things look pretty good.
Detroit Tigers (24-27) at Los Angeles Angels (24-28)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Angels Stadium of Anaheim
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (4-1, 3.97 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker (3-5, 5.96 ERA)
Between state natives and former Tigers players, it seems like anyone affiliated with the state of Michigan has the Tigers' number whenever wearing another uniform. Former Tiger Jefry Marte was the latest piece of evidence, going 4-for-4 with a double and a home run on Tuesday against his former club. As for Michigan natives, look no further than Eastern Michigan product Matt Shoemaker. The 29-year-old righthander surprised all of baseball when he went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 2014, finishing second to Jose Abreu in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Shoemaker has fallen off of his blistering pace somewhat, but don't tell that to this Tigers lineup. In three career starts against Detroit, Shoemaker is 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA. He has limited Tigers batters to hitting just .129/.191/.161 against him, and has not allowed a home run. In their last meeting on August 27, 2015, Shoemaker limited the Tigers to one hit in 7 1/3 shutout innings after allowing 13 runs in his two starts prior.
To make matters worse, the Tigers are catching Shoemaker at the wrong time. Following a brief demotion to the minor leagues in early May, Shoemaker has been on fire in his last four starts, allowing a 3.28 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. He has 29 strikeouts during this stretch, including 23 in his last two outings. Those two performances, both home starts, have netted two runs on 10 hits and zero walks in 15 2/3 frames. His ERA has dipped by more than three runs during this four-start stretch.
Part of this breakout may be velocity related. Shoemaker is throwing harder than ever this season, even ramping his fastball up to 95 miles per hour at times. He still sits in the low 90s most of the time, but his average velocity was at its highest point of his career in May. He has also simplified his approach, relying on his splitter and slider more often while curtailing curveball usage somewhat. This has helped him induce a 13.2 percent swinging strike rate in 2016, the highest of his career.
Tigers hitter to fear: Justin Upton (.333/.333/.333 in 3 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Miguel Cabrera (.111/.111/.111 in 9 plate appearances)
While normally quite stingy, the ball seems to be flying out of Angels Stadium this week. The Tigers and Angels combined for nine home runs on Tuesday, and several more balls carried to the wall in the 11-9 slugfest. This doesn't bode particularly well for Fulmer, who has had some home run trouble early on. Right-handed batters are having a lot of success against him as well, hitting .286/.351/.557 with all five home runs he has allowed. Part of this may be BABIP-inflated, but his two-pitch approach against a righty-heavy lineup may be cause for concern in this one.
Shoemaker cruises and the Angels sweep.
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