GLENDALE, Ariz. – Carson Fulmer was the first White Sox pitcher to take the ball when they opened Cactus League play on Saturday at Camelback Ranch.
It was asomewhat symbolic assignment, as short as it was (two innings), as the Sox embark on this rebuilding phase in the life of their franchise.
It’s meaningful for Fulmer, the 2015 first-round draft choice who struggled during his 11 2/3 relief innings of major league work as a rookie (8.49 ERA) but enters 2017 reinvigorated after tweaking his delivery when he returned to the minors last year.
He pitched two scoreless innings and struck out Franklin Gutierrez, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. After walking one and allowing a single in the first, Fulmer pitched a perfect second with two strikeouts.
Here Fulmer works to Justin Turner:
“Last year was the year I needed,’’ Fulmer said Friday. “I’m really comfortable now.’’
It’s meaningful as well, he said, to be seeing superstar left-hander Clayton Kershaw taking the mound for the Dodgers. When Fulmer learned he was getting the nod, he said he hoped Kershaw would, too.
“I mean, he’s a pitcher that you look up to and for me, it’s going to be awesome,’’ Fulmer said. “Hopefully I can keep the scorecard or something.’’
Fulmer’s first scorecard from the majors shows him striking out Albert Pujols on three pitches. He has that kind of stuff. But things soured after that.
A return to AAA Charlotte, where Fulmer likely starts the 2017 season, was beneficial. Pitching coach Richard Dotson suggested some changes in his delivery and it clicked. In his last three starts there, Fulmer allowed one earned run on nine hits with 14 strikeouts and three walks.
“The difference between forcing weak contact and getting hit hard is angle on your fastball and your other pitches,’’ Fulmer said. “I think that for me, being a smaller guy, it’s easier for me to be flat. They’ve really put an emphasis on keeping me tall and working down in the zone with the angle.’’
Pitching coach Don Cooper is keeping the pitching slate close to the vest this spring, which is why the Sox didn’t announce their first three starters till Friday. Staff ace Jose Quintana will start Sunday against the Rockies at Camelback Ranch and Lucas Giolito Monday against the Cubs in Mesa.
Giolito was acquired in the trade for Adam Eaton. Fulmer and Giolito, as well as 2016 first-round right-hander Zack Burdi, right-handers Michael Kopech (Chris Sale trade) and Reynaldo Lopez (Eaton trade) are at the core of young pitchers the Sox are banking on to blossom in the next year or two.
“Putting us young guys in that situation,’’ Fulmer said. “I think it’s going to benefit us.’’
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw starts against Fulmer, who pitched 11 2/3 innings in the majors and posted an 8.49 ERA.
“I mean, he’s a pitcher that you look up to and for me, it’s going to be awesome,” Fulmer said. “I hopefully can keep the scorecard or something. He’s an amazing guy and his work ethic, what he does on and off the field is great. As a young player, you look up to people like that. “This is an opportunity for me to get more experience and to be more comfortable with a big stage,” Fulmer said.Also on Friday, the Sox announced they have agreed to contract terms with 25 players, including Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, Tyler Saladino. Rodon was the highest paid among them at $600,000.The league minimun in 2017 is $535,000.