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Down, but not out? Carson Fulmer says succeeding with White Sox ‘has to happen’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carson Fulmer isn’t afraid to believe it. Isn’t afraid to keep reaching for it. Isn’t afraid to say the words out loud.

“I know I’ll get out of [Class AAA] soon,” he said Saturday in the sweltering home dugout of the Charlotte Knights. “It’s definitely coming. And once I get back up to the White Sox, it’ll be the last time that I have to do something like this.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself, what I need to do to get back up and have success. I know my opportunity is coming soon. I’ll be back up, definitely be a staple of the rotation and stay there for a long time.”

Say this much for Fulmer, who was the Sox’ first-round draft pick (No. 8 overall) in 2015, yet, at age 24, finds himself at a career crossroads: Despite his 6.68 ERA in 24 big-league appearances, including 13 starts, he still talks a good game.

Carson Fulmer is still fighting for his White Sox career. (AP)

Although he was 2-4 with an 8.07 ERA after opening 2018 as the Sox’ No. 5 starter, he still sees himself as an important part of the team’s future.

And even as he continues to struggle in Charlotte, where he is 3-4 with a 5.40 ERA — and a tumultuous trio of six-walk games — since his demotion in May, he is defiant.

“I definitely haven’t had the results that I wanted from the big leagues,” he said. “I’ve put myself in some bad situations. It’s easy for people to take that and kind of [put me in] a hole, I guess. But I would never take back anything that’s happened in my career. It’s going to be beneficial in the long run.

“And there’s one thing a lot of people don’t know: Once I get on the mound, I’m going to compete every pitch. That’s how my motor runs. That’s how it’s always run, even in college, high school. I hate being beat. I hate it. I work very hard. I take my job very seriously. And the only thing I want to do is be with the Sox and help them win.”

Fulmer’s next call-up to the Sox will be his fourth — three more than he envisioned when he joined the organization after a stellar career at Vanderbilt. He admits now that there was an “awe factor” he couldn’t quite get past in trips one and two to the Show.

If he’s going to make it as a big-leaguer — particularly as a starting pitcher, rather than as a reliever — his next, and possibly final, approach will have to be different, more direct, more willful.

“As a pitcher, you have to gain that respect from your managerial staff and your teammates to go out there and be able to be that bulldog and take your team deep into games,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to have to go back up there and do. I’m going to have to go back up and have success. It just has to happen.”

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Under the guidance of Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, Fulmer is toiling on his mechanics. He’s using his powerful legs more to drive toward the plate and avoid side-to-side movement. Managing tempo and the consistency of his violent delivery — not to mention the basic act of throwing strikes — remain serious challenges.

Meanwhile, there is no telling if Fulmer will get another extended audition as a starter. But the rotation is where he aims to be, especially if and when the going gets good for the rebuilding Sox.

“In order to win a World Series, you’ve got to win four games,” he said. “You can’t do it on your own. We need a whole group of guys who can win those games. I want to be one of those guys.”

There will be no shortage of competition for spots in the rotation next season and beyond, of course. Reynaldo Lopez continues to emerge. Lucas Giolito, one of Fulmer’s best friends in the game, is getting every opportunity to prove his worthiness. Fireballer Michael Kopech, 22, is alongside Fulmer in Charlotte as the
No. 1 pitching prospect in the organization.

“I’m looking out for his best interests,” Fulmer said of Kopech. “I want him to go up and I want him to stay for the rest of his career. He definitely has the ability to do that.”

Whether or not that once was true of Fulmer, it no longer matters. He is where he is — back in Class AAA, but not necessarily stuck there. How it plays out from here is for him to determine.

“It would be very easy to get down on myself,” he said. “But that definitely won’t ever happen.”