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Michael Fulmer oozes intensity in first spring outing

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The nerves started around the time Michael Fulmer woke up Tuesday morning and continued to intensify up until the point the Detroit Tigers' top pitching prospect took the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the club's Grapefruit League opener.

Beyond this being the first outing of spring training, it was the first time -- outside of a few GCL games -- that Fulmer entered the game as a reliever.

The adrenaline was powerful.

"First inning was getting me real amped up," Fulmer said after the Tigers' 4-2 loss. "You know my first big league spring training game in my career. I felt well."

Learning how to channel his excitement and energy has been a process for Fulmer, and he's still learning to best harness that to his advantage.

"Outside the lines, I'm a nice, respectful guy. Between the lines, it's game on," Fulmer said. "I'm not trying to be disrespectful to the other team or anything like that but my job is to get the batter out. I have to do anything I can to try that."

Having catcher James McCann, whose presence behind the plate belies the fact that 2015 was his rookie season, was a comfort. Fulmer said he leaned on him at times when the nerves were running rampant and looked to him for advice and steadiness during the game.

McCann advised Fulmer to slow the game down. When there was a runner on second in his second inning, Fulmer admitted he was a little bit quick to the plate, not allowing his arm to catch up. McCann encouraged him to gather himself and exert more patience on the mound and Fulmer made the adjustment, escaping the inning unharmed. Fulmer gave up two hits but did not allow a run over his two innings pitched during the game.

"He's a high-intensity guy and when he's able to harness that for something good, it's going to be special," said McCann. He rated Fulmer's first outing as "very, very good."

Coming into the game from the bullpen was a new experience for Fulmer, but pitching coach Rich Dubee encouraged him to treat it like a start.

Fulmer went to the backfields and began his throwing routine after the anthem had been sung. It's still a foreign feeling for the 22-year-old, but he wants to give himself the best position to make the team, whether it's as a starter or reliever.

Manager Brad Ausmus has indicated that Fulmer's best shot, as the team is currently constituted, will be as a reliever.

"I want to be able to make the transition to the pen if I have to, so I need all the practice I can get," Fulmer said. "I think the more times I get the more settling I'll be."

Ausmus was encouraged by what he saw from the young right-hander.

"He's got a good pitcher's body. He looks strong and he does have a lot of 'come at ya' at the same time," Ausmus said.

Though his role has yet to be determined, Fulmer sounded like he would be happy as long as he delivers when his number is called.

"If I'm on a mound pitching healthy and doing my job, that's all I can ask for, wherever I am," Fulmer said. "Whatever the team needs me to do, I'm going to do it."