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Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer is beginning to show flashes of returning to form

10 months agoAndy Martinez

From the moment he signed, the Cubs had no doubts about the role Michael Fulmer would play.

“He’ll be in the back end of the bullpen,” manager David Ross said back on March 1. “I hope he does great every single time he goes out. Gets outs, doesn’t give up a run. That would be the hope. I’m sure that’s his hope. He wants to be perfect out there.

“That won’t happen, but I hope he’s closing down games for us on the back end and getting the big outs for us.”

In a lot of ways, that hope has come true — in good ways and bad.

Right out of the gate, Ross turned to Fulmer — seeing him close out the final three outs of the Cubs’ 4-0 win over the Brewers on Opening Day. He picked up his first save on April 7 against Texas, a 2-inning outing where he struck out 4 and allowed 1 hit.

But Ross’ projection ultimately came to fruition.

It’s impossible for relievers to not run into trouble throughout a season and for Fulmer that came true early in the season. He blew a save on April 10 against the Mariners, but Nico Hoerner’s first-career walk-off hit made the moment a bit of an afterthought.

The Dodgers, though, gave Fulmer — and in turn the Cubs — fits. Over 8 days, Los Angeles scored 8 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks in 3 innings scattered over 4 games.

“Just one team had a good approach against me,” Fulmer said.

The key for any good reliever, though, is a short memory. From a purely pitching side, Fulmer was still there — the velocity and stuff were similar to last season, so it was just about going out and getting the next guy out.

Ross moved Fulmer off from high-leverage situations after his last outing against the Dodgers on April 23, when he allowed 2 runs in the 9th inning, allowing the Dodgers to pull away in a 7-3 win. Ross turned to him on April 27 in the 6th inning against San Diego and Fulmer responded with a shutout inning, allowing a walk and striking out 2.

“Just going and trying not to change too much,” Fulmer said. “Not panic, not overreact. It’s early in the season and just try to figure it out.”

It was the beginning of what he and the Cubs hope is him returning to who they signed him to be: a high-leverage reliever and potential closer for the team. Over his last three outings, he’s struck out 4 in 3 innings of work and allowed just one baserunner — and doing so in the 6th, 8th and 7th inning respectively.

Ross might want to keep pitching him in that role for a few more outings, but if he continues to put up zeroes, it’ll be hard not to envision Fulmer working himself back into the closer’s role. There was always going to be some adjustment period for Fulmer — he has 18 career saves but was never a full-time closer. In 2022 with Detroit, he served more in a set-up role to All-Star closer Gregory Soto. Ross and the Cubs still believe in him — it’s early after all — and he’s beginning to show flashes of what he can be in this Cubs’ bullpen.

“I just pitch when I’m told to and stop when I got the ball taken away from me,” Fulmer said. “As long as I’m healthy and pitching, and as long as we’re winning, I’m happy.”

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