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Tigers rookie Fulmer aims for AL ERA title

DETROIT -- It's not the quality of his pitches that stand out about Michael Fulmer, although the pitches are impressive.

It's the calm, professional way the rookie right-hander goes about his work.

That work will be on display Wednesday night when he pitches for the Detroit Tigers against the Cleveland Indians.

Fulmer will need 6 1/3 innings to reach 162, which would qualify him for the American League ERA title.

Fulmer currently has the lowest ERA in the league (2.95, although he technically was off the list for one day) and, if he can keep his runs allowed down Wednesday, he could become the first rookie to win the ERA title since the Tigers' Mark Fidrych in 1976 (2.34).

Fulmer, acquired from the New York Mets in a trade deadline deal last year, has a fastball in the mid-90s, a slider that can dazzle and a changeup that kind of came out of nowhere early this year and has made him an effective pitcher.

What sets Fulmer apart is how he keeps his emotions in check, the stoic way he goes about his starts and never lets any adversity ruffle him.

So, Michael, who gets the credit for that?

"A lot of people," Fulmer said. "My parents, for raising me and keeping me humble. My high school coach, Ron Moore, who had me all four years of high school. He was teaching our team how to play the game the right way."

Moore coached Fulmer at Deer Creek high school in Edmond, Okla. He has since moved on to Durant (Okla.) High School but still maintains contact with his former star.

"High school is a prime time to mold the team," Fulmer said, "young kids, whether you're going to go on to play college or pro ball or not. You learn just by talking to him, getting insights into the game.

"I was raised properly. I went to church every Sunday. I was raised to say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir.'"

Fulmer (11-7, 2.95 ERA) is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts against Cleveland, which will return to its regular lineup after manager Terry Francona rested most of his starters Tuesday night, a day after they clinched the AL Central Division.

Detroit drubbed Cleveland 12-0 behind a four-hit shutout by Justin Verlander (7 2/3 innings) and Kyle Ryan (1 1/3).

Francona has shuffled his rotation to get ready for the postseason after winning the division for the first time since 2007 and the eighth time overall.

Veteran Zach McAllister will replace Trevor Bauer against Fulmer, with Bauer shifted to Saturday. Lefty Ryan Merritt pitches Thursday, with Josh Tomlin/Adam Plutko splitting the Friday/Sunday dates in some order.

"So there's some balls in the air," Francona said. "One of those games will most likely be Plutko starting."

That rotation means Cleveland is giving ace Cory Kluber as much time as possible to recover so he can start the Indians' first postseason game. Kluber left Monday's start after four innings with a right quad strain. He will miss 7-10 days but should be available when the divisional playoffs begin.

Francona is putting his pitchers ahead of getting the best record in the league.

"If I had my choice, I think I'd rather play at home," Francona said. "I think anybody would. But not at the expense of burning out your entire rotation or your bullpen, because having your guys ready to play is the most important thing."

McAllister (3-2, 3.58 ERA) is making just his second start of the season and it's possible Francona is looking to see whether he would be a viable starter in the playoffs. He is 0-0 with a 7.50 ERA in eight relief appearances against Detroit this season but is 1/3 with a 5.25 ERA in 22 career games (10 starts).

It's a big start for Fulmer because a win definitely would strengthen his Rookie of the Year bid and the ERA title would enhance it even more.