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Tigers at Royals Preview: Michael Fulmer makes his final start of the season

Could it also be his final game as a member of the rotation?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The end is almost here. The Tigers may have a couple extra games against the Cardinals next week, but either way, the close to the 2020 season is squarely within sight. As many expected before the year began, the conclusion of this season’s quest comes mercifully, but that does not mean that there were not some highlights and good feelings over the past few months.

Sadly, one player who has not been a source of much excitement is Michael Fulmer. While it was great to see the former Rookie of the Year back on the mound after missing all of 2019, the results have not been too encouraging. Fulmer has not put together consecutive positive outings, and he has been limited to three innings at most as he works himself back into the rotation.

His last outing was one of his best, however, throwing three shutout innings with just one hit allowed. Still, his velocity is way down (from 96.5 mph in 2018 to 93.5 mph this season) and he has not been missing a lot of bats. Even more troubling is his 44.9 percent hard hit rate per Statcast, which is well above his career average.

Perhaps another offseason can help him work through some of the issues, but it seems that the bullpen is likely to be his future home. The Tigers simply have too many good, young arms that have more promise and potential. It is possible Fulmer can become useful in the some capacity going forward, but the tough reality is that his best days are likely behind him.

Detroit Tigers (22-32) vs. Kansas City Royals (23-33)

Time/Place: 8:10 pm, Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, FS1, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: RHP Michael Fulmer (0-2, 8.17 ERA) vs. LHP Kris Bubic (1-6, 3.97 ERA)

Game 55 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 25.1 16.4 9.8 6.73 -0.2
Bubic 45.1 22.2 9.6 4.35 0.6

Kris Bubic is the latest AL Central prospect to face Detroit, and unfortunately most seem to have been enjoying better years than Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Bubic is a former first-round pick and a pitcher with a decent ceiling even if he does not turn into a future ace. Though he only reached High-A last year, Kansas City felt confident enough to let the 23-year-old give it a shot in the majors.

That decision seems to have paid off. Like the Tigers, the Royals are not ready to compete yet, but even so, Bubic has been a positive asset this year. His 3.97 ERA is pretty solid, especially for a rookie, and even though his strikeouts are not jumping off the page, he has limited the damage by keeping the ball in the park and by maintaining a decent contact profile.

Bubic throws his fastball around half of the time, sitting around just 92 mph. He features a changeup and curveball as well, and has found good results from these pitches, evening if he does not generate a ton of whiffs and strikeouts. The Detroit offense is lukewarm on most nights, and that should allow the rookie a chance at another solid outing; he is averaging a 3.12 ERA and 3.52 FIP over 26 innings in his past five starts.

Key matchup: Young batters vs. 2021 opportunity

It is clear that Detroit used 2020 as a low-risk chance to get some of the prospects a taste of major league experience, and hopefully this will pay dividends in the future. As alluded to earlier, Mize and Skubal have had up-and-down seasons, but ultimately their stat lines should be mostly ignored. The same could be said for Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron, who are hitting just .205 and .154, respectively.

Neither young batter has severely damaged their stock going forward, but it is always tough to have such a slow start at the plate. Jake Rogers is a cautionary tale, posting a 27 wRC+ last year and not getting a callup this season, but that should be more the exception than the norm. Parades has had some bright moments, and Cameron still has good potential, so they will get another shot next season, but this year has not been the brightest beginning to their careers. A good final few games would be a nice way to head into the offseason.