Tigers’ right-hander Michael Fulmer might not make it to the World Baseball Classic this year. The 23-year-old sprained his right ankle during agility drills on Saturday and is expected to miss his next spring training start on Monday. According to manager Brad Ausmus, the sprain will likely prevent Fulmer from reaching the necessary pitch counts to play for Team USA later this month.
MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports that the sprain is classified as a Grade 1 injury, which shouldn’t affect the righty’s chances of making the roster by Opening Day. As far as the WBC is concerned, Fulmer’s involvement depends on Team USA advancing beyond the first round, as he’s been named to a Designated Pitcher Pool that the team can only draw from in subsequent rounds of the tournament.
Beck adds that pitchers in the second round can toss up to 80 pitches, with an additional 65 pitches in the third round. Fulmer, meanwhile, has thrown a total of 19 pitches in three innings during spring training so far. The Tigers are understandably inclined to take a conservative approach with the right-hander, who turned out a 3.06 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 7.5 SO/9 over 159 innings with the club during his award-winning rookie campaign in 2016.
After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.
According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.
Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.
Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.