It’s not good for one’s health or sanity to assess the White Sox young players on a daily basis.
And that’s why pitching coach Don Cooper cranked up the emotion to suggest patience in regards to Carson Fulmer when the White Sox opened the 2018 season a couple weeks ago in Kansas City.
Fulmer’s been a lightning rod for snap judgments, a high draft pick with shaky performances in his first few major league innings followed by a strong finish to the 2017 season then a rough spring training.
But if there is truth to the suggestion that each and every game is a building block, then Fulmer is getting 2018 started with a solid first step. He pitched real well against the Toronto Blue Jays last week, allowing three runs and striking out five batters in five innings. He didn’t get the win, but he was very pleased with how things went.
“Great first start,” Fulmer said Monday back in Chicago. “Was able to have some pretty good command, was able to locate my fastball pretty well. Got a lot of swing and misses on my changeup, which is a pitch I’ve been working on quite a bit. Cutter was pretty effective. I didn’t throw too many breaking balls, which is my bread and butter when it comes to making an out pitch. But I was able to get through five strong innings, came out of the ballgame, kept momentum on our side, put our team in the best chance to win.
“So very, very happy with the first one. Obviously, take the positives out of that one and move on to the next one.”
The next one comes Tuesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays as the future continues to roll on for the White Sox starting staff. Reynaldo Lopez has been the most impressive of the bunch with two strong outings to start his season. Lucas Giolito had his issues in his first two starts, but there’s plenty of confidence that he’ll straighten things out once he’s no longer pitching in arctic conditions. Michael Kopech was terrific in his debut at Triple-A Charlotte on Monday night, striking out eight hitters in four innings of work.
Fulmer is fighting for a spot in that crowded rotation of the future as he continues to develop at the major league level, a common theme among many of big league White Sox in 2018. The nature of baseball almost assures they won’t all be gems, and that’s fine. Fulmer will have every opportunity to prove he belongs not just in this rotation but in the rotations in 2019 and 2020 and beyond, when this rebuilding effort is planned to yield a perennial contender.
“I think that for us young guys, being thrown out there and getting innings under our belt and facing the best competition in the world, that’s the only way we’re going to get better,” Fulmer said. “We all have personal goals, but we have to set those aside and we have to look at the team goal. And the team goal is to be a part of winning a World Series. That’s all we think about. That’s all we want to do. And I think that being part of a staff that is going to push towards that eventually is really special.
“With the organization giving us the opportunity to go out there every fifth day, it’s definitely really special. We’re definitely fortunate to have the opportunity to do that.”
There will be plenty of fans who still aren’t sold on Fulmer as one of the future five after what he did in the spring. And while spring stats should always be taken with a hefty helping of salt, the numbers were not at all good for Fulmer. He finished with an 11.81 ERA in five outings, giving up seven home runs and walking 13 batters in 10.2 innings.
But Fulmer was still able to take plenty of positives from the spring, as was his manager.
“I got ahead of a lot of guys, which is real important for a pitcher and a starting pitcher. I wasn’t able to make that third pitch,” Fulmer said. “I’d get guys 0-2, 1-2, and would get through the hard part and had some difficulty with my breaking ball, which is my go-to. My changeup, was still trying to feel it out. But I felt great, I felt healthy, I made every one of my starts, I was able to go deep into ballgames. And regardless of the result, I was given the opportunity to make this club and ended up having a really good first start, which I think is one of the tougher outings, for guys to get off on a good start. I’m definitely ready to make a lot more starts this year and hopefully put us in a great chance to win.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t too concerned about the spring,” Rick Renteria said. “Everybody, rightfully so, looking at what the outcomes were about, but you’ve got to look beyond the outcomes, kind of see who that person is, what he’s done in the past, how he prepares his mindset. As it turns out, we’ve had one good outing out of him, hopefully we’ll get another one and we continue to build on it. You’re not always going to have good days, and the days that you don’t have your best stuff or best command is the day that you really work on trying to get through a ballgame and keep your team in it. And I think those are also great learning experiences for them, as well.”
As he showed in Toronto, Fulmer’s confidence was not shaken by a suboptimal spring. This is a guy who’s gone through both positives and negatives in his brief time as a pro. Remember, he was drafted fewer than three years ago. In all levels of the minor and major leagues, he’s yet to even tally 300 innings.
But Fulmer said his experiences — high-profile ones in the eyes of White Sox fans — have prepared him for this “prove it” season. And it could give him a leg up on Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and the rest of the pitching wave coming to the South Side.
“I think I’ve had a lot of experience now in regards to some ups and downs,” Fulmer said. “Not to think too much about spring training, but I stayed healthy, was able to work on a lot of things. And I think continuing to have that mindset of going out there and making your pitch and slowing the game down when you need to, it used to be kind of hard for me, but now it’s easy. Taking a deep breath, going out there and executing my pitch when I need to is really important, and I was able to have some success with it.
“I’ve gotten my feet wet, I feel comfortable being on this stage, and I’m just looking forward just to get some more experience.”