DETROIT (AP) — Baseball’s return to Comerica Park meant Michael Fulmer was back on the mound in Detroit.
It had certainly been a while for the right-hander, who had Tommy John surgery and missed the whole 2019 season.
“The closer I got to being officially done with rehab, the more and more and more I wanted baseball to come back,” Fulmer said. “I’m very happy to be up here in Detroit. I got to throw off the big league mound, or the game mound, today for the first time in about a year and a half.”
The Tigers held the first workout of their new training camp Friday. They jogged, stretched and played catch in the outfield at Comerica, and there was a short period of batting practice on the field as well during the portion of the day that was open to reporters. Pitchers used both bullpens, along with the main mound in the infield.
Fulmer threw off that game mound, and he said once he was on the field, the restrictions brought about by the coronavirus didn’t interfere too much with the routine. It was certainly a strange spot for preseason camp, though.
“It was pretty weird. I think it’s even more weird in the clubhouse, where we are wearing masks,” Fulmer said. “Outside, it wasn’t bad. Obviously, you have your group of pitchers working out, separated, and your bullpen guys up first.”
Several people wore masks while on the field, including general manager Al Avila.
“It’s really different,” outfielder JaCoby Jones said. “It’s kind of weird actually, not being able to shake hands and just get close and talk to people and goof around. It was fun being back on the field and trying to get back in the groove, and just taking BP in Comerica again. I’m actually looking forward to taking some flyballs out there.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t want to talk much about the testing protocol, but he indicated some players were still going through the process of being cleared to participate.
“They’re still approving people that are eligible to play,” Gardenhire said. “Guys from Dominican, not being able to get in the country and flying down a little later than the other guys, so you’ve got to deal with a little bit of that, but that’s all part of it.”
Gardenhire credited quality control coach Josh Paul with helping plan the logistics. Teams have player pools of up to 60 members, which is a lot at a time when only one field is in use and staying spread out is important.
“That’s probably the toughest thing, 60 guys and trying to figure out all the logistics,” Gardenhire said. “The greatest thing about baseball is you can make adjustments on the fly. We got out there today, and it looked like it was running a little bit slow. We just don’t have the same number of people right now because of these tests. Next thing you know, guys instead of running into the cage, they hit on the field, and it got us off the field a little quicker.
“That was a good adjustment for the manager, because I was hungry and I wanted to get in and eat.”
When the Tigers originally convened for spring training in Lakeland, Florida, a few months ago, Fulmer was able to play catch but was still anxious to get back on the mound. The delay in the season allowed him to work through the rest of his rehab without feeling rushed.
Now the question is how effective Fulmer can be during this abbreviated season. He won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 and posted a 3.83 ERA in 25 starts the following year. Then he went 3-12 in 2018. He’d already dealt with oblique and knee injuries before elbow problems cost him all of 2019.
For Fulmer, Friday was an important first step in what figures to be an unusual few weeks.
“There’s Xs in the dugout where we can and can’t stand. You have to come down to the field one way and back off the field another way,” he said. “It’s going to definitely take some getting used to, but as long as we’re playing baseball, I can follow about anything.”