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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets’ saving grace: At least Michael Fulmer is in the AL

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer delivers a

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees during the second inning of an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, June 12, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For those wondering what became of Michael Fulmer, forever stamped in Mets’ lore as the high-ceiling prospect traded away last season for Yoenis Cespedes, we can confirm that he is indeed a very good major-league pitcher right now for the Tigers.

Actually, Fulmer is better than that.

The streak he’s on at the moment, ever since pulling a plus-changeup out of his back pocket during a bullpen session, is historically great. With Sunday’s mastery of the Yankees in a 4-1 win, Fulmer joined the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta as the only two pitchers, since 1893, to go four consecutive starts with at least six scoreless innings and three hits or fewer.

“Pretty good company,” said Mike Pelfrey, the former Met and current Tigers teammate. “He’s the real deal.”

No pressure, huh? Only 23, with nine career starts, and Fulmer already is being mentioned in the same breath as Arrieta, the reigning Cy Young champ who’s put up supernatural numbers since last year’s All-Star break.

Of course, we’re talking small sample sizes here. This isn’t to suggest the Mets dealt the next Arrieta. Just that Fulmer (7-1, 2.52 ERA) is rapidly maturing into the ace-caliber starter Sandy Alderson was hesitant to use as a trade chip, even for a game-changing bat like Cespedes. With a fastball at 94-97, an 87-88 slider, and now a lethal changeup, Fulmer is the total package, on par with the elite youngsters that currently reside in the Mets’ stellar rotation.

“I think he’s becoming more confident, which is the biggest hurdle once you get to the big leagues,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “He seems like he’s on the right track for sure.”

Consider Fulmer a parting gift from former GM Dave Dombrowski, who was fired by the Tigers four days after making the Fulmer trade and is now the president of baseball ops for the Red Sox. Shipping Cespedes to Flushing for a minor-league pitcher was the same as raising a white flag over Comerica Park, and despite the rosy projections, Fulmer couldn’t save the ’15 season.

“I wasn’t really happy about it,” Ausmus said. “I didn’t know anything about him.”

The Mets, however, were acutely aware of what they were giving up. Fulmer was their first-round draft pick in 2011, selected No. 44 overall, and four years later, the tremendous upside was showing. Any other season, slogging through their rebuild, and the Mets don’t make that deal. But with a division title in reach, it was a no-brainer. Alderson had to pull the trigger on Cespedes, even with the understanding that Fulmer could haunt them for the next decade.

Back then, the Mets already had Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey as the rotation’s anchors, with the recent promotions of Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz adding even more ace-caliber arms. The Mets were so deep in that department they first tried to trade Zack Wheeler, still rehabbing from TJ surgery, in a package for the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez — a deal we all watched spectacularly collapse in a flood of Wilmer Flores’ tears.

“I knew a lot of those guys,” Fulmer said. “I was teammates with them in the minor leagues. I knew if I kept at it, and pitched like I could, my time would come.”

The decision to ultimately move Fulmer instead is the kind that keeps GMs awake at night. Alderson later admitted to being against it until nudged by COO Jeff Wilpon, who realized the Mets were at a tipping point, and getting Cespedes was the franchise’s best shot at ending a nine-year run of futility.

Cespedes was approaching free agency, and to those who knew Fulmer best, he seemed like an overpay for a two-month rental. But Cespedes’ monster second half not only propelled the Mets to the World Series, the experience helped pave the way for him returning this season. And now? They’d be an offensive catastrophe without Cespedes.

Just like tracking an Ex on Instagram, it won’t be easy for the Mets to completely let go of Fulmer. To wonder what might have been. At least he’s in the American League.

Eye of the Tiger

Michael Fulmer joined the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta as the only two pitchers to record at least six scoreless innings and allow three hits or fewer in four consecutive starts since 1893, when the mound was moved to 60 feet, six inches away from home plate. Fulmer, who is 4-0 with a 0.26 ERA during this stretch, is the only one to do so in the same season. (courtesy Elias).

6/12at YankeesW, 4-16.0 IP2 H0 R3 BB3 SO91 p

6/6Blue JaysW, 11-06.0 IP2 H0 R3 BB5 SO88 p

6/1@AngelsW, 3-07.2 IP2 H0 R2 BB8 SO102 p

5/27@A’sW, 4-17.2 IP3 H0 R1 BB3 SO103 p

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