Armed with new pitch, Farmer ready for '15 debut

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Buck Farmer made four appearances in the majors last season.

Buck Farmer, the Georgia native who played at Georgia Tech before being drafted by the Detroit Tigers, has never been to California.

In fact, he's never been west of Omaha, Nebraska.

That changes this week, when the young right-hander makes a spot start Thursday for the Tigers against the Angels in Anaheim.

"I know nothing about California. Nothing," Farmer said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. "A couple guys on Toledo's team are from California. Corey Jones told me where to go. I forget the area he said has some pretty good restaurants."

Farmer can scope things out when he flies into town the day before his start, if the time difference doesn't wipe him out first.

Thursday, though, will be all business -- and the only feasting he has in mind is on the Angels' lineup.

This will be the first start of the season for Detroit for Farmer, who had a couple cameos in 2014.

News travels fast

He got the news of his promotion Sunday -- from, of all places, the Internet.

"It's actually pretty funny," Farmer said. "I really didn't get told by anybody until I got to the field in Toledo that day. I pretty much learned through Twitter that I was getting called up. Obviously, I wasn't gonna put much speculation into that until I was actually told by somebody."

Buck Farmer: "I know nothing about California. Nothing."

When Farmer arrived at Fifth Third Field that day, Toledo manager Larry Parrish confirmed the news: He was to travel with the Mud Hens to Louisville, and then fly out Wednesday afternoon to meet up with the team -- after a layover in Dallas -- in Anaheim.

He's taking the place of Kyle Lobstein, who was put on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder.

The Tigers had Farmer, a 24-year-old right-hander, working as a starter in Toledo, so he'd be ready for any callup -- whether it be to start or relieve.

Farmer made four appearances in the majors last season. His debut was a good one, his second start was a rough one, and then he got a couple relief appearances as a September callup. Interestingly, he began 2015 at low Single-A West Michigan.

"Last year, I was hoping to end the year at high A, that was my goal," Farmer said, laughing.

This year, it was clear from Day 1 that if the Tigers needed a starting pitcher, the pecking order would be Lobstein -- who filled in nicely for Justin Verlander -- and then Farmer.

Farmer has been mostly great at Triple-A Toledo this season, outside of a couple clunker starts in late April and early May.

Farmer attributed those starts to being off mechanically, particularly with his balance. In bullpen sessions with pitching coach Mike Maroth, he worked on that -- by getting to the balance point in his delivery and then pausing there for a second.

The last four starts for Toledo, he had a 1.80 ERA, allowing only 18 hits in 25 innings. He had 15 strikeouts in the first two of those starts, then just three the last two. That might be attributed to Farmer's new weapon, a sinking two-seam fastball. Farmer said he threw maybe one or two of those a start in 2014 -- as just "show-me" pitches -- but that total is up to 15 to 20 this season. Thrown correctly, the pitch, trumpeted heavily by Maroth, gets more groundouts.

"It's always been a pitch that I've had trouble with -- one time it'd be really good, the next time it would cut or something," Farmer said of the two-seamer, which moves in on right-handers and away from left-handers. "Mike Maroth really worked with me, told me it's something I need to learn, it's a big pitch.

"In the bullpens, I kept throwing it and throwing it and throwing it, and I've taken it out to the mound with me. It's helped."

Keep climbing

The two-seamer has helped Farmer get some quicker outs, which will be key Thursday against the Angels.

He has yet to throw 100 pitches in a start for Toledo this season, so he won't go anywhere over 100 during his 2015 debut with the Tigers. Limiting the walks -- he's had at least one every start this year, as many as four (twice), and three his last time out -- and getting quick outs are his only hope to see the seventh inning.

This is likely the first of two starts for Farmer with Detroit in the next 11 days. If Verlander is ready by the second week of June, then he would join the rotation and Lobstein, if healthy, could move to the bullpen. Or if Farmer impresses, he could stay and pitch in relief after his starts are through. That said, the Tigers' bullpen has actually been pretty good this year, and there might not be room for him once his spot-starting duties are over.

Either way, Farmer is cool with it. He just wants to keep progressing.

Last year, he progressed from low-A ball to the major leagues -- and this year, he's progressed all the way to that far-away land, California.

"The only thing I know is I'm starting Thursday and will make the best of it," Farmer said. "And hopefully, I stay up there."