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Royals 14, Tigers 6: Michael Fulmer’s return Royal-ly spoiled

Fulmer looked pretty good, and we’ll take that as a victory in an otherwise rough night for the home team.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As expected on a bullpen day for the Detroit Tigers, they couldn’t hold serve against the Kansas City Royals. An early lead blew up in their face in the middle innings and they ultimately fell to .500 on the year by a score of 14-6.

The return of Michael Fulmer was much anticipated, and early returns were pretty good. Big Mike’s fastball looked pretty good in the first inning, sitting 93-94 mph with some life. Meanwhile his slider looked better than ever. Hall of Fame level Tigerkiller Whit Merrifield singled to lead off the game, but Fulmer punched out the dangerous Jorge Soler and got a pair of weak balls in the air to make quick work of his first major league inning since September of 2018.

The second inning was more of the same, though Fulmer did lose a slider over the heart of the plate that was deposited over the Tigers’ bullpen in left by Maikel Franco for a solo shot.

Meanwhile, the Tigers offense was doing work. Jordy Mercer and Cameron Maybin led off the bottom of the second with singles and tied it up when KC shortstop Adalberto Mondesi couldn’t pick a slow grounder off the bat of Victor Reyes. JaCoby Jones then stepped to the dish one batter later and rifled a shot inside the left field foul pole for a three-run jack. A Niko Goodrum triple into the right field alley set up their final run of the frame as Jonathan Schoop sacrificed Goodrum home with a fly ball.

Yes we were feeling pretty darn good about ourselves in Motown at that point, but it was not to last.

Gifted a 5-1 lead, Fulmer took the mound just shy of 30 pitches deep and knowing he’d need a clean inning to avoid the hook as the Tigers keep him on a limited workload. It should be noted here, that an “opener” consists of a reliever who pitches the first inning against the top of the opponent’s lineup, leaving the “starter” to settle in against the middle of the order and go from there. Michael Fulmer is not an opener. Thank you for your attention to this public service announcement.

Unfortunately, Fulmer did look to labor somewhat in the third. The slider flattened out and he poured a few too many fastballs right down the pipe. He surrendered a two-run shot to, oh yes you know it, Whit Merrifield, and later allowed a deep solo shot to center field from Salvador Perez before he was lifted from the contest.

Overall, for his first start back from Tommy John surgery, Fulmer looked pretty good. There is work to be done but for most of the outing he looked like a just slightly diminished version of himself. That’s what you’re hoping for as he embarks on the process of building up his arm and honing his stuff under real game pressure.

At this point, our game preview reared its ugly head as Ron Gardenhire turned to four young relievers all making their Tigers debut. Three of them, Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows, and Anthony Castro were making their major league debut as well. The Royals welcomed them to the big leagues about as rudely as possible.

Funkhouser took over from Fulmer and got the final out of the third inning. He then melted down completely and quickly in the fourth. Fans who watch the Tigers’ farm system will be aware than Funkhouser’s stock has been in steady decline for a few years. Monday night’s rude awakening put all the reasons why on display.

Both the fastball and slider have inconsistent life, and Funkhouser rarely seems to make pitches when he needs them. Even ahead in a count he lets hitters back in by nibbling outside the edges without the movement needed to tempt anyone. It’s been a maddening watch in the minors, because occasionally he will put it together and look capable of pitching in the majors, but it never seems to last.

Funkhouser was only able to record one out, leaving the game with three runs in, and two men still on for our second contestant, right-hander Beau Burrows. While Burrows is three years younger than Funkhouser, he too has stagnated in recent seasons. The Tigers first round pick in 2015 was always a bit undersized to expect much future projection, but over the past year his fastball has actually gone backwards.

Burrows was greeted with a three-run shot by Maikel Franco before he could finally put the fourth inning to rest. Things didn’t improve in the fifth. Burrows hit Merrifield —I mean you might as well — and then Jorge Soler mashed a two-run shot to right field to make it 12-5 Royals. To his credit, Burrows came out and tossed a better sixth inning, while Victor Reyes smacked a solo shot to right to make it 12-6 Royals.

In the seventh, we saw the Tigers most recent acquisition, RHP Carson Fulmer, who they claimed from the Chicago White Sox over the weekend. While not the overpowering stuff he had breaking into the league a few years back, Fulmer showed a good breaking ball and mixed a decent changeup in there while keeping the Royals off the board.

John Schreiber handled the eighth with no issues while the Tigers’ offense looked like the wind had gone out of their sails. They mustered brief threats here and there, but when JaCoby Jones popped out with two men on and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, hopes for a comeback were finally extinguished.

We got one more major league debut in the ninth, this time from reliever Anthony Castro. Yet another former Tigers prospect as a starter who just never made the jump, the wiry Venezuelan does still pack a lethal breaking ball, but like Burrows, has seen his max velocities, and his prospect stock, slip a little in recent years. Castro got a similar greeting as well, giving up a two-run shot to Brett Phillips before escaping the inning.

The Tigers drew a pair of one-out walks in the ninth, but with the score standing 14-6 at that point, hopes were not on the menu. Jordy Mercer grounded out and this one mercifully came to an end. A bullpen game with most of their best relievers on the shelf after heavy usage in Cincinnati was never a great recipe for success.

The two clubs will get back at tomorrow night at 7:10 p.m. ET.

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