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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Michael Fulmer is back and not a moment too soon

Our Large Adult Son is finally back on the mound.

Texas Rangers v Detroit Tigers Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Remember earlier this season when it seemed like every other pitcher on the Tigers roster was on the disabled list? Detroit eventually had to start putting their relievers in the rotation — shoutout to Blaine Hardy for making that work — and we had to endure watching players like Ryan Carpenter get shelled by more experienced lineups.

Well, we’re kind of in that mode again. The Tigers are once again shorthanded thanks to injuries to Blaine Hardy and Artie Lewicki, as well as the general bad-ness of Francisco Liriano. It felt like a huge relief when Jordan Zimmermann came off the disabled list in mid-June, and Michael Fulmer’s pending return on Friday feels the same way. Fulmer Day has been one of the few bright spots of the season for this Tigers team, even if he hasn’t been quite as sharp this year as in seasons past.

For Fulmer, his late-season return gives him the chance to redeem a somewhat lost year. His 4.50 ERA is the result of a lot of up-and-down outings, as well as a curious inability to work through a lineup a third time despite doing so quite capably in both 2016 and 2017. His recent oblique strain also gave him time to rest his elbow, which some have blamed for his command issues throughout the year.

Chicago White Sox (48-79) at Detroit Tigers (53-75)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Reynaldo Lopez (4-9, 4.72 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (3-9, 4.50 ERA)

Game 129 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Lopez 143.0 16.6 9.8 5.27 0.6
Fulmer 112.0 19.8 8.1 4.27 1.4

Reynaldo Lopez’s ERA is starting to catch up to his peripherals. The 24-year-old righthander has enjoyed a solid first full MLB season, but his strikeout rate has been below average for most of the year. This is surprising given his raw stuff — his four-seam fastball has averaged 96 miles per hour in 2018 — though he has shown flashes of ace-caliber performance. Even this month, Lopez has a pair of seven-inning gems on his ledger, including one against the high-powered New York Yankees on August 7.

Overall, the last six weeks have not been kind to the young righthander. He lost four consecutive starts to close out July, which ballooned his ERA up to 4.57. He then had the two aforementioned bounce-back outings, but has fallen apart again in his last two starts. He gave up four runs in five innings against the Tigers on August 13, then was bombed for six runs in just two innings by the lowly Kansas City Royals five days ago.

While the overall numbers suggest a home run problem — he has given up 12 dingers in his last 42 23 innings — I’m not sure that’s the case. Eight of those homers came in just two starts, and all but one at the hitter-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field. He may have some issues pitching at home, as 17 of his 23 homers allowed this year have occurred in Chicago, but everything else suggests this might just be normal regression catching up to him.

Key matchup: Fulmer vs. his pitch count

The Tigers will no doubt have Michael Fulmer on a pitch count on Friday evening. He threw 56 pitches in a rehab start for High-A Lakeland six days ago, striking out seven while allowing just one hit. Fulmer will probably throw something like 70-80 pitches against the White Sox on Friday, but may be pulled sooner if his innings get a bit stressful. We probably shouldn’t worry about the bullpen too much at this point — we’re just a week away from expanded rosters and there’s an off day on Monday — but an efficient Fulmer gives the Tigers a better chance of beating the dumb White Sox, which is always fun.

Prediction

Fulmer shakes off the rust to work five scoreless innings before hitting his pitch count.

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