Tampa, Fla. – Buck Farmer has gone about his business very quietly this spring. Whether he was in the hunt for the final rotation spot or, as it now appears, fighting for a final bullpen spot, he’s continued to get hitters out.
“I think his experience has made him more confident,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “When we brought him up (in 2014) he wasn’t ready. He was inexperienced, young, not far removed from the draft. We brought him up out of need; probably rushed him.
“Now, you are seeing the experience catching up. He is trending in the right direction.”
He was first up for the Tigers Monday and he faced a true test, on the road against the Yankees everyday lineup, minus Carlos Beltran.
He threw three scoreless innings, allowing two singles and a walk in the Tigers’ 3-2 loss. In 12 innings this spring, he’s allowed three runs.
“I am just trying to make every opportunity count,” said Farmer, who threw 40 pitches, 28 strikes. “Even when I was up at the end of last year, that’s all I tried to do — make every opportunity count and go from there.”
Farmer was spotting his mid-90s fastball well and mixing in both a curveball, which he has brought back after abandoning it for three years, and a cutter, which former pitching coach Jeff Jones taught him last year.
“I’ve learned a lot since last year,” he said. “I learned that I can get outs. I learned that my repertoire, my stuff does work up here. It’s just a matter of refining it, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down and letting my defense work.”
The bullpen battle remains fluid. Bruce Rondon was optioned to Toledo and Bobby Parnell was released. That leaves Farmer, Lendy Castillo, Logan Kensing and possibly Shane Greene in the hunt for two spots.
“We are still in-between if he’s a rotation guy (starter) or a reliever,” Ausmus said of Farmer. “It’s a split camp on that.”
He added later: “We’re going to take the best team possible. If (Farmer) makes us the best team possible, we’ll take him. If something changes and he needed more development, we’ll worry about that when the time comes.”
Kyle Ryan, who is likely to make the club as the second left-hander in the wake of Blaine Hardy’s shoulder injury, pitched two scoreless innings — allowing a ground single by Alex Rodriguez and getting five ground ball outs.
He’s pitched well enough to earn a bullpen spot regardless of Hardy’s injury, but Ryan isn’t taking anything for granted.
“No,” he said when asked if he felt he’d won a spot. “I will never think that way, not until the first day of the regular season. I don’t assume anything. You know what assuming means.”
Hard to blame him. He was cut on the final day of spring training last year.
Kensing also pitched two innings, allowing a home run to Mark Teixeira.
“I thought everybody pitched well,” Ausmus said. “You give up three runs in eight innings, that’s pretty good.”
The Tigers runs came on back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning by Ian Kinsler (fourth of the spring) and Justin Upton. Upton hit a monster shot that nearly reached the large scoreboard in left-center field. It was his third homer in seven at-bats.
Minor leaguer Adam Ravenelle gave up a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth — a two-out, two-run double by Dustin Ackley.