Detroit — Starter or reliever?
Or will he challenge seriously for regular work, in any category, as the Tigers and Buck Farmer look at 2016 and beyond?
On the plus side is Farmer's fastball, which hits 95 mph and was, of course, his feature pitch in 2013 when the Tigers drafted him in the fifth round out of Georgia Tech.
Farmer carries also a change-up and a cross-bred breaking pitch that is one-half slider, one-half curve.
But a 7.80 ERA in nine games, including four starts, for the Tigers this season, suggests there is work to do, maybe a lot of it, before Detroit can count on the 24-year-old Georgian in any role.
"He's still pretty young," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, talking about a right-hander whose Monday night start against the Reds was strong, at least through five innings. "It takes time. He was in (Single A) ball for most of last year."
Farmer's issue Monday was duration. It has been a recurring theme, one that prompts thoughts he might be a better bullpen option.
He didn't allow a Reds hit until the fifth. He still had a one-hitter when he entered the sixth. But he gave up a couple of quick home runs, and soon Farmer was watching from the dugout as the Reds completed a 10-run inning that ended in a 12-5 victory and ruined any chance Farmer would get his first big league victory.
It tends to be like this, or rather, has been since he got some bit work for the Tigers late in 2015.
Farmer often makes it through one, or even two trips through a lineup. But the more hitters see him, the more they tend later to jump on pitches that didn't follow script: a belt-buckle fastball that split the plate; a change-up that either wasn't located or didn't fool anyone; or a "slurve," as Farmer calls his hybrid breaking pitch, that spun and hung.
Still, because all three pitches can at least behave differently, the Tigers will give the 6-foot-4, 225-pound prospect a chance to show he belongs. In some fashion.
Farmer still believes he will start.
"It's because I've done it for so long," he said, speaking of his days at Georgia Tech and on the Tigers farm. "I wouldn't say it's my forte, it's what I'm used to doing.
"But if it's better for me to pitch relief, I'll do whatever it takes to help the ballclub."
He could benefit from throwing a fourth pitch — a cutter makes sense — but Farmer says any addition is "down the road." He needs to get three pitches down before a fourth choice is tackled.
He might also consider polishing his options during winter ball in the Caribbean. But that depends upon his 2015 workload (he has thrown 115-plus innings between Triple A Toledo and Detroit) and on any thought from the Tigers front office that winter ball might help.
So far, Farmer said, nothing has been mentioned.
Which means he has another five weeks in 2015 to help the Tigers decide if he's a starter, or a reliever. Or a prospect who more needs overtime at Toledo in 2016.
Ausmus said Anibal Sanchez, who has been gone since Aug. 19 with a strained rotator cuff, has not picked up a baseball. His stint on the disabled list ends next week, but there is no sign Sanchez will be ready to pitch any time soon.
Angels at Tigers
First pitch: 7:08 Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit
LHP Hector Santiago, Angels (7-7, 2.91): One of those rotation guns who has been steady throughout 2015. Gives up less than a hit per inning, strikes out nearly one per inning. Allows his share of walks, but is about as tough on right-handed batters as left-handers.
RHP Justin Verlander, Tigers (1-6, 3.86): Pitching excellent baseball. But getting little to show for it, all because the Tigers tend to deep-freeze their offense when Verlander is chucking. Should have five victories, minimally, after early injuries shelved him.