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Young guns Farmer and Ryan set for bullpen duty

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Buck Farmer pitches during Friday's practice.

Lakeland, Fla. — Manager Brad Ausmus on Friday made official what has long been suspected — two of the Tigers' best young pitchers, right-hander Buck Farmer and left-hander Kyle Ryan, will pitch out of the bullpen at least at the beginning of spring training.

"We feel like they have a better chance to help the team and make the team as relievers at this point," Ausmus said. "That doesn't mean they're not starters eventually down the road. But we've talked to them both and they are both on board."

There's not many bullpen jobs to be had — possibly only two if closer Joe Nathan, set-up men Joakim Soria and Bruce Rondon, plus Al Alburquerque do their jobs.

Veteran Tom Gorzelanny is in line for one of the left-handed reliever spots, though Ausmus said he wasn't married to having two lefties on the roster.

"Generally, yes (he'd prefer two lefties), but the bullpen is one area where there is some maneuvering to be done roster-wise," he said. "There are a few spots that we're not really sure about and there's going to be a number of guys involved. Whether it ends up being two lefties, I can't swear to it."

Ryan didn't make a relief appearance in five minor league seasons, making 114 starts. But after starting one game for the Tigers late last season, pitching six shutout innings in a win, he made five relief appearances. He faced 17 batters, allowed five hits and three runs.

Farmer, who celebrated his 24th birthday Friday, was told several weeks ago that he could be working out of the bullpen. His heavy, 93 to 95 mph fastball could play well in short stints.

"We've talked about it a lot and it's been thrown out there that I may be in the bullpen," Farmer said during Tigerfest last month. "My freshman year in college I pitched 50 innings out of the bullpen, so it's something I am not a stranger to. If that's the case, I will be ready."

Farmer started 33 of 34 games he's pitched in the minor leagues. But in his two relief appearances with the Tigers last season he faced nine batters, struck out four and allowed one hit (a home run).

"The evaluation started last year when we were looking ahead at the end of last season," Ausmus said. "Ryan pitched well when he started and relieved last year. He seemed to have nerves of steel. And Buck was a guy who got to the big leagues quicker than anyone expected. Watching him throw, I and (pitching coach) Jeff Jones felt like his stuff played more to a reliever role right now."

Left-handers Ian Krol and Blaine Hardy, plus right-handers Josh Zeid, Alex Wilson, Angel Nesbitt, Joel Hanrahan, Chad Smith, Jose Valdez and Luke Putkonen are also in the hunt for a bullpen job.

Ausmus said Drew VerHagen and Kyle Lobstein would remain starting pitchers.

"If we get to a point in spring training where we don't see Buck or Ryan making the team," Ausmus said, "we will start cranking up their innings so they can go to Toledo and start."

Wells returns

The Tigers are bringing Casper Wells back into the family.

Wells, a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2005, was signed to a minor league contract. He is expected to report on March 15.

Wells, who played in 100 games for the Tigers in 2010 and 2011, last played in the majors in 2013 with the Phillies.

He also played two seasons with the Mariners and also with the A's and White Sox. He spent last season in the Cubs organization playing at Triple-A Bridgeport and Iowa.