Michael Fulmer sets Tigers record, but sees scoreless streak end

KANSAS CITY -- Following Friday night's game, a 10-3 bludgeoning at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, Michael Fulmer was willing to reflect.

Not so much on his own historic 33⅓ scoreless innings streak, but on the single mistake that brought it to an end when Royals catcher Salvador Perez launched a two-out homer into left field at Kauffman Stadium.

He ruminated on the slider he hung to Perez, who smacked it a whopping 422 feet. He brooded a bit over the two walks that he surrendered afterward. And most of all, he expressed his disappointment in coming away with a loss for his team.

"The scoreless streak was nice and everything, but my ultimate goal every time out is it's a team game, to get a 'W' and unfortunately, I wasn't good enough to do that tonight," Fulmer said.

The 23-year-old Fulmer, who is inching closer and closer toward phenom versus prospect, didn't seem nearly as keen on revisiting the remarkable feat accomplished over the past five starts.

Fulmer, who was acquired by the Tigers from the New York Mets in the trade deadline deal for Yoenis Cespedes last season, recorded the second-longest scoreless streak by a rookie pitcher in the last 45 years, according to Elias Sports Bureau, behind Fernando Valenzuela (35 innings in 1981). He gave up as many runs Friday -- one -- as he did in his previous five starts combined, and he lost for only the second time in his first 10 career starts.

His streak is noteworthy, not only in terms of his service time, but in sheer difficulty for any pitcher, rookie or veteran alike. It is the longest scoreless innings streak by any Tigers pitcher since 1961.

"It's impressive for anyone," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think it's much more impressive for a rookie."

Friday night's rout, suffered against the Tigers' American League Central division rivals, will sting temporarily, but the promise of Fulmer's potential and future success should offer solace to a team that is a benefactor of his stunning rise. Earlier in the season, the club's rotation was in flux and hinging on the performance of erratic veteran Anibal Sanchez. Now Fulmer has proven himself as more than capable of locking down the No. 3 job behind ace Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann.

Fulmer was not at his best Friday. The oppressive heat and humidity (a game-time temperature of 91 degrees) played a role in the first few innings. He tired in the sixth, which, according to Ausmus, would have been his last inning regardless of whether he had prevailed against Perez. And even then, in an outing that left him chiding himself for not being good enough, he held the reigning World Series champs to one solitary run and five hits. The way he did it, too, left an impression.

"It's definitely something special. It was fun to watch. It was fun to be a part of. And you know what's more impressive to me about it? There were some innings that were tough for him," catcher James McCann said, detailing a bases-loaded jam Fulmer escaped in the third, pitching around Eric Hosmer effectively, inducing a double play to end the inning. "I mean that's a veteran -- he looked like a veteran on the mound, is what I'm trying to say. A lot of rookies give in to Hosmer, try to get him out and [Fulmer] understood with a base open and a righty on deck, it was a favorable matchup. The way he goes about his business is special."

Nothing Fulmer has done up until this point guarantees success moving forward, but he has provided ample evidence of his growing poise, confidence and ability to make adjustments. He's learning on the job and adapting at a pace that bodes well for the future.

Even since his call-up at the end of April -- which was prompted by an injury, not the intention of making him a permanent staple of this staff -- Fulmer has progressed tremendously. There is no reason to believe he cannot continue to make strides. And that, more than the result of any single game or outing, has to be one of the brightest spots thus far of a still young 2016 season.

"His talent is off the charts. Anyone sitting in the stadium knows that," McCann said. "But something that's so special about him is that he's a sponge. He wants to learn. He wants to learn from his mistakes. He wants to learn from other people's mistakes. That points to a bright future because the game’s all about adjustments."