Fulmer strong candidate to start home opener

Pitching later in rotation, or as a reward for ROY, could prompt Tigers' decision

Fulmer strong candidate to start home opener

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus isn't ready to announce his rotation order after Opening Day starter Justin Verlander. But Michael Fulmer is shaping up to be a strong candidate to start the home opener April 7 against the Red Sox.

Ausmus isn't addressing the home opener specifically, but he said Fulmer will probably pitch later in the rotation.

"We're going to push Fulmer towards the back, because we started him slower [this spring]," Ausmus said. "We want to ease him in."

Fulmer K's Sanchez in the 3rd

Verlander, Fulmer and Jordan Zimmermann are set in the Tigers' rotation as long as they're healthy. Daniel Norris hasn't officially won a spot yet, but his strong spring has put him in position for one. Matt Boyd, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey are also competing for spots.

If Norris and Boyd both make the rotation, the Tigers might want to avoid pitching them back to back and alternate lefties and righties in the rotation. More important to Ausmus, though, might be breaking up Verlander and Zimmermann so that the Tigers wouldn't have three youngsters pitching consecutively in a series.

"Hypothetically, if it was Norris and Boyd, and you also had Fulmer, you might want to separate them so that the bullpen doesn't get taxed," Ausmus said.

All of those trends point toward Fulmer potentially starting the home opener, which will be the fourth game of the season unless the Tigers have a postponement in Chicago.

Even when the Tigers have opened on the road, the home opener has often served as a reward for pitchers coming off a strong season. Fulmer, of course, is coming off the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Asked if it could be a reward again, Ausmus was coy.

"We might discuss that, yeah," Ausmus said.

But when asked if Fulmer could end up pitching the home opener, Ausmus deflected with sarcasm.

"He could pitch every single day for 162 straight games," Ausmus answered, "but he's not gonna."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.