At the time, Tigers fans were not sure what to expect out of their rookie pitcher. The date was May 21, 2016 and Michael Fulmer was scheduled to make his first home start as a Tiger. He was coming off four decent outings on the road — the Tigers won three of them — though his 6.52 ERA was nothing to write home about. Some idiot blogger even called him “overmatched” heading into that day’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Well, someone was certainly overmatched, and it wasn’t Fulmer. The then-rookie struck out a career-high 11 hitters in a dominant performance, holding the Rays to just one run on four hits in seven innings. It was the type of holy sh*t performance that turns heads, and one that we would see much more of over the course of the next several months.
We all know the story from there. Fulmer continued to dominate, and eventually won the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Along the way, he faced the Rays a second time and was even more stingy, holding them to just two hits in seven shutout innings. He struck out 10 this time, bringing his season total to 21 strikeouts in 14 frames against the Rays.
This is a new season, of course, but many of those same Rays hitters are still around in 2017. Can Fulmer keep up his torrid pace against Tampa Bay on Tuesday?
Detroit Tigers (8-4) at Tampa Bay Rays (6-8)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Andriese (0-0, 4.50 ERA)
Game 13 Pitching Matchup
You may not remember it, but the Tigers faced Matt Andriese in one start last season at Comerica Park. The then-26-year-old righthander gave up four runs in 5 1⁄3 innings, but picked up the win because he was facing Anibal Sanchez. That was one of Andriese’s eight wins in 29 appearances last year, which included 19 starts. He allowed a 4.37 ERA in 127 2⁄3 innings.
Advanced metrics like FIP and Deserved Run Average thought Andriese was much better than that, but we will have to wait and see whether they turn out to be correct. Andriese’s advanced numbers were largely buoyed by a 4.7 percent walk rate, a clip that has nearly doubled in his first couple starts of 2017. He also gave up 1.2 home runs per nine innings last season, and has given up a lot of hard contact so far this year.
He also has trouble controlling the running game, according to FanGraphs.
Andriese and Ronald Torreyes should be inseparable. You see, Torreyes is the only attempted base-stealer that did not successfully swipe a base when Andriese was on the bump in 2016. Andriese is not only slow to the plate, but he had a problem with balks in the minors while working through his issues throwing to first. He is not Jon Lester in that regard, but it is a problem for him, and the opposition knows it. Andriese tied with Taijuan Walker for the highest opponents' stolen-base percentage at 94%, and only Gerrit Cole had more steals against him in fewer innings worked.
This may not matter against the Tigers, but don’t be surprised if we see them try to exploit it.
Key matchup: Tigers outfielders vs. Tropicana Field’s new turf
Prior to their season opener against the Yankees, the Rays installed a new turf field at Tropicana Field. Among other things, it is a major aesthetic improvement over prior years.
However, those other things could have a bigger impact on this series. The new turf seems to be a bit bouncier than usual, something our colleagues at Pinstripe Alley picked up on during the opening series of the season. The Rays outfielders have had a few games to get used to how the ball bounces and travels on the new surface. The Tigers will have to learn on the fly, though, which could lead to a misplayed ball or two at some point over the next few days. The new turf also adds to an already difficult venue for visiting outfielders; those pesky catwalks are still around too.
With two wins already banked at the start of a long road trip, the Tigers would love to pick up another series win over a Rays team that struggled to score runs during their recent trip up north. Given the Tigers have a significant advantage in two of three starting pitching matchups this week — man, it’s nice to say that again — winning another series is certainly feasible. They should get off to a good start on Tuesday with Fulmer facing a Rays lineup he thoroughly dominated in two starts last year. Tampa will probably score some runs this time, but the Tigers should score more.
Fulmer picks up his second win of the year in a strong outing.