Sept. 18: Fulmer has been diagnosed with a torn meniscus, the team now tells reporters (Twitter links via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press). He’ll undergo surgery if and when the diagnosis is confirmed by Dr. Andrews on Wednesday.
Sept. 17: Fulmer’s MRI revealed damage to his meniscus, manager Ron Gardenhire tells reporters (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Jason Beck). The results of the test are currently being reviewed by Dr. James Andrews.
Sept. 16: Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer exited yesterday’s game after making just five pitches (and allowing two homers), and he’ll now undergo an MRI to further evaluate the right knee that forced him from that game, per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News (Twitter link). A return in 2018 seems like a long shot, McCosky adds. Manager Ron Gardenhire said after yesterday’s game that Fulmer initially tweaked the knee when trying to field a bunt (Twitter link from MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery).
Fulmer, 25, has struggled through the least-productive season of his big league career so far in 2018, pitching to a 4.69 ERA over the course of what would be a career-low 132 1/3 innings. His strikeout percentage is right in line with his levels from the 2016 season that won him American League Rookie of the Year honors, and his 10.5 percent swinging-strike rate and 33.6 percent chase rate on out-of-zone pitches are both career-bests by a slight margin.
However, Fulmer’s walk rate has spiked this season, and he’s allowing home runs, line drives and hard contact at career-high rates. By measure of Statcast, the average exit velocity of a ball hit against Fulmer is up nearly three miles per hour from 2017 (85.6 mph in ’17, 88.3 mph in ’18), and he’s allowed a career-worst 19 home runs despite a career-low number of innings pitched and games started.
The injury to Fulmer is particularly notable given his status as a player who now perennially frequents the rumor circuit during periods of heightened trade activity. If the injury proves to be nothing more than inflammation, it’s unlikely that it’ll have any major impact on Fulmer’s appeal to pitching-hungry teams. If it’s more serious in nature, though, he’ll see a second consecutive season come to an end due to a notable health issue; Fulmer’s sophomore season in 2017 was cut short when he underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery in his right arm. He also missed nearly a month of action due to an oblique strain earlier this summer.
Detroit will control Fulmer for another four years beyond the current season, though he’ll reach arbitration for the first time this winter as a Super Two player (meaning he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times, as opposed to the standard three, based on his service time to date). The rebuilding Tigers have dramatically improved their farm system and feature a number of high-upside rotation candidates atop their prospect rankings — Casey Mize, Franklin Perez, Beau Burrows, Alex Faedo, Matt Manning — so perhaps their rebuild could come together a bit more quickly than initially expected. However, it still seems like a long shot that they’ll be playing competitive baseball in 2019, so Fulmer figures to once again draw his fair share of trade interest from teams around the league this offseason. Fulmer may have had a down year in 2018, but young pitchers with multiple years of team control are still the most coveted assets on the trade market.