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If it seems like we’ve spent a lot of time talking about Carson Fulmer, it’s because there really aren’t any other positional battles to consider.
Sure, there may be a couple of open spots in the bullpen, but that game of musical chairs concerns non-roster invitees and Aaron Bummer, and we can’t really say much about them besides their small-sample results. On the position-player side, the three most vulnerable players all have had great springs.
- Adam Engel: .317/.391/.659; 4 BB, 10 K over 46 PA
- Matt Davidson: .358/.433/.679; 7 BB, 12 K over 60 PA
- Tyler Saladino: .333/.379/.481; 1 BB, 4 K over 29 PA
It’s the reasonable strikeout rates that provide the actual encouragement. Engel and Davidson both suffered from strikeout rates well above 30 percent last year, and both players struggled making contact last spring, so it’s worth noting that they’re striking out far less often this time around.
They kept it going on Monday. Engel went 3-for-3 at the plate and 1-for-2 on the basepaths, and Davidson went 3-for-4 with a homer. Maybe Albert Suarez and the Diamondbacks pitching staff couldn’t throw quality breaking balls, but hammering mistakes is a lot of the battle for players trying to ward off the AAAA label.
They had plenty of company in this department during the White Sox’ 15-2 victory over the Diamondbacks, as the lineup produced 20 hits and five walks. Hell, they scored seven runs in the same inning that umpires deprived Matt Skole of a grand slam because it’s the batter’s eye, not the umpire’s eye.
All this offense meant that Fulmer had the good kind of short outing for once.
Fulmer threw four no-hit innings for the kind of start he needed to stake semi-credible claim to the fifth starter job. He might have gone out for the fifth inning under normal circumstances since he’d only thrown 72 pitches, but the top of the fifth inning took about 72 minutes, give or take a half-hour. It would have been his second prolonged break of the afternoon.
“Hitless” won’t be confused with “perfect” here. Fulmer walked three and threw just 38 of 72 pitches for strikes. Most of the zone issues were confined to a period of four batters from the end of the second inning into the third. That’s where all of his three walks occurred, as he missed the zone with 15 of 16 pitches during that stretch.
He opened the third with two four-pitch walks to the bottom of the Diamondbacks order, which threatened to undo his good work from the first two innings. After Jarrod Dyson’s deep flyout, Fulmer fell behind 3-0 to A.J. Pollock, but ended up getting a backwards K on a fastball that might’ve been low. Paul Goldschmidt then flied out to end the threat.
Fulmer finished his day on middle ground with a 1-2-3 fourth inning, getting three groundouts, two of them on three-ball counts.
The stuff looked good, and there’s data with it — 91 to 94 with life, the changeup with fade and the curveball with snap. The Diamondbacks didn’t make firm contact when Fulmer made them swing, Maybe Fulmer was lucky to come away with the zeroes on his line, but he deserved its overall quality.
It’s almost as if that big control burp was there to keep everybody at their exact same level of enthusiasm. Fulmer and Rick Renteria can point to the full day’s work and call it the kind of outing they need to see. Those who think Fulmer’s starting days are numbered point to that stretch of 16 pitches and say he can’t maintain his mechanics for more than a couple innings at a time.
Hector Santiago is still throwing on Fulmer’s schedule, coming out of the bullpen and throwing two scoreless innings on Monday. Although Santiago has outpitched Fulmer, such relief jobs will likely be his role to start the season. During the broadcast, Jason Benetti and Steve Stone said Renteria liked the idea of using Santiago as a left-handed foil against lineups tooled up for an all-righty rotation. The idea has a lot of merit, but it requires Fulmer to be capable of pitching at least five innings on a regular basis.