By NOAH TRISTER
The Associated Press
DETROIT — Every time the Detroit Tigers lose another game, the franchise moves a bit closer to a highly murky future. It’s hard to say what the roster will look like a year from now — or even a month from now.
Amid all that uncertainty, Michael Fulmer has added some much-needed stability in the starting rotation.
After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, Fulmer has been one of the most dependable pitchers in the American League so far this season. He is Detroit’s lone representative for the All-Star Game — even Miguel Cabrera didn’t make it this time — and at age 24, he could be the player the Tigers eventually try to rebuild around.
“Winning Rookie of the Year and going to the All-Star Game are things you think about for your whole life. Once you get to this level, though, you don’t really think of yourself in those situations. You are just trying to win your next game,” Fulmer said Sunday. “I don’t think it will sink in until I get down there. It was great to have all my teammates congratulate me. I knew they meant it.”
The Tigers acquired Fulmer in 2015 when they traded Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets. While Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd — other pitchers Detroit acquired at the deadline that year — have had their ups and downs, Fulmer has consistently been good. He went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA last season, winning Rookie of the Year despite a late surge from Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. This year, he’s 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA.
Fulmer’s starts are a bit of a throwback. He doesn’t rack up huge strikeout numbers and keeps the ball in the park. He’s allowed only four home runs this year in 101 2/3 innings, which has kept his ERA around last season’s level.
He has 13 quality starts in 15 outings in 2017.
“He’s been our most consistent pitcher by far since he got here last year,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
The Tigers are 36-45, their worst record at the season’s midway point since 2003. If things don’t improve quickly, Detroit faces a significant overhaul by a front office that already has talked about the need to cut costs .
J.D. Martinez, who can become a free agent after this season, is a prime candidate to be elsewhere next year. Justin Upton can opt out of his contract, and the Tigers have a team option on Ian Kinsler. Then there’s Cabrera and Justin Verlander, franchise cornerstones signed to huge, long-term deals.
Even if Cabrera and Verlander remain with the team, they’re both 34, and neither has performed exceptionally this year. Both were terrific as recently as 2016, so the Tigers can hope they’ll return to that level, but it looks increasingly like Detroit will need big contributions from its younger players if it wants to return to the postseason any time soon.
Fulmer’s All-Star-caliber season has been one bright spot for a team that could use a few more.
“He’s the kind of guy that when you miss him in a series, you’re glad, because he’s got that kind of stuff,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona, whose Indians did not have to face Fulmer when they played at Detroit this weekend. “He went from being Rookie of the Year to now, he’s starting to probably get in the Cy Young conversation. You can see why the Tigers like him so much.”