Cubs closer conundrum: Michael Fulmer reassures David Ross ‘things will get better’

Fulmer hit a rough patch against the Dodgers.

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Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer struggled against the Dodgers, leaving the closer role even more ambiguous than at the beginning of the season.

Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer struggled against the Dodgers, leaving the closer role even more ambiguous than at the beginning of the season.

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Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer saw manager David Ross in his office before the game Tuesday and walked in with something to say.

“I told him that I know things haven’t gone well,” Fulmer said in a conversation with the Sun-Times, “but I’ve been working my ass off down in the bullpen and before the game and stuff. And I told him I’m not worried about it and things will get better.”

The conversation came a day after a rough series against the Dodgers for Fulmer. Ross had called on him twice in the ninth inning during the four-game set. Fulmer gave up the tiebreaking grand slam that sealed the Cubs’ loss in the series opener. Then he gave up the two-run double that put the series finale out of reach.

“I trust Michael,” Ross said. “He’s identified some areas where he got off track. I’ll use the bullpen accordingly and as I see fit, how the game plays out.”

Ross avoided officially naming a closer to start the season, but he most often turned to Fulmer in save situations. Now that role is even more in flux.

Fulmer started the season strong, then ran into some bad luck with soft contact.

“At this stage in the big leagues, the best players in the world, you’re focused on one thing — that’s results,” he said. “You don’t care how you get them. . . . An out’s an out, a win’s a win, and that’s all that matters. When you don’t get the job done, no matter how it goes, whether it’s a broken-bat single, a bloop here or a ground ball through the hole, it doesn’t matter.”

That’s how he felt about the walk-off he gave up to David Peralta in Los Angeles a week and a half ago. The first-pitch cutter drifted just a little farther over the plate than Fulmer wanted it to, and it didn’t matter that he’d induced a ground ball to the right side like he’d planned. It mattered that it was a two-run single.

“Just had a rough week or 10 days against one team who had a good approach,” Fulmer said. “They eliminated one side of the plate, sat on some pitches — and combine that with a little bit of a lack of execution, and it had me searching a little bit in the head.”

With the soft contact finding holes, Fulmer started trying too hard for swing-and miss.

“And when you try to do too much,” he said, “those [base hits] turn into spinning cutters over the middle of the plate that get hit for homers.”

Before the game Tuesday, Fulmer threw a bullpen session with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and bullpen coach Chris Young to get back on track.

They’re using his 2021 season as a north star of sorts. That was his first season in the Tigers’ bullpen, and he had a career-best 2.97 ERA.

Fulmer told Ross that he feels better now than he did at this time last year and is “ready to go” anytime he needs him.

“As far as stuff-wise, pitches-wise, I feel like I’ve got more options this year,” Fulmer said. “Maybe not be so reliant on the cutter anymore because we have done a lot of work to the other pitches, too.”

Entering Wednesday, Fulmer’s cutter had a 31.4% whiff rate this season, according to Statcast. But it also had a 38.5% hard-hit rate.

“And we don’t play the Dodgers anymore this year in the regular season, so we’re all good,” Fulmer joked.

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