Detroit — Now, for sure, Tigers students are free to ask something necessary about Buck Farmer.
Where has this guy been?
To have pitched impeccably in his first spot-start against the White Sox on May 27 was the kind of thing that sometimes happens in baseball when a young starter, fresh from the UPS man having dropped him off at the big-league park, catches a bit of bottle lightning and pitches a whale of a game.
Only, of course, to slip back into consciousness in his next stint.
But that wasn’t the scene, or Farmer’s experience Wednesday evening at Comerica Park, when a 26-year-old right-handed prospect arrived as Matthew Boyd’s replacement and pitched another shutout stretch in helping the Tigers whip the Angels, 4-0, with three Detroit runs coming in the eighth on a majestic, 113-foot-high homer into the left-field seats from Justin Upton.
“I just think he’s more comfortable here,” said Brad Ausmus, the Tigers manager who realizes Farmer was brought in a hurry to Detroit three years ago for emergency duty when he might better have been confined to the farm. “He’s more comfortable now even as he’s translating to the highest level of baseball.”
Farmer has now thrown 13 innings for the Tigers in 2017. And enemy teams are still hunting for their first run against him.
This is a good way to stick in a rotation, which is where Farmer is certain to stay for the foreseeable future. Boyd is at Toledo working on some aggression issues with the strike zone, and Farmer, his stand-in, will be getting another start, this one regularly scheduled as he fits into manager Brad Ausmus’ new starting quintet.
Although he has pitched for the Tigers in bit-roles the past three summers, as a starter and as a reliever, Farmer was a strategic goal for the Tigers in 2017. He was to remain in Toledo’s or Detroit’s rotation solely.
“From the get-go of spring training, Al (Avila, general manager) and I didn’t want Buck on a yo-yo string,” Ausmus said. “When he went to Toledo, He was going to start.”
Farmer allowed only three hits Wednesday, all singles. He walked a lone batter while striking out five and made it to 100 pitches before Ausmus waved him off with two gone in the seventh.
He wasn’t exactly throwing a furious pitch selection against an Angels team that, remember, is missing one Mike Trout (thumb surgery). Farmer’s fastball topped out at 92 mph and ran more in the vicinity of 89-90. But when you throw the slider-curve combo Farmer has concocted, coupled with a quality change-up that long has been his wingman pitch, fastballs add a few kilometers of zip.
“I threw a lot of sinkers in on guys,” said Farmer, whose velocity dip was due mostly to the heavy number of two-seam pitches he wheeled. “That ground ball in the seventh inning (double play following a leadoff single by Albert Pujols) was huge, and it came on a two-seamer.”
Not that the Tigers in their at-bats were muscling Angels starter Alex Meyer, a much harder thrower who showed a thing or two to J.D. Martinez, Upton, and Nick Castellanos, striking out the Tigers’ No. 5-6-7 batters a combined seven times.
Meyer whiffed two more Tigers along the way and allowed no more hits than Farmer — three, all singles. His only real blemish came by way of an unearned run in the third.
Meyer was partially to blame after hitting leadoff batter Ian Kinsler with a shoulder-neck curveball that Kinsler shook off.
Meyer next walked Alex Avila to edge ever closer to the ditch. He nearly was saved when Miguel Cabrera popped a high-bounding ground ball over the bag at third. But when Yunel Escobar botched it, the Tigers had the bases loaded.
Victor Martinez then swatted a grounder to second that was turned into a double play, with the Angels happy to have ceded the Tigers only an early 1-0 lead.
Upton wasn’t going to allow the Tigers to win skinny.
After the Martinezes, Victor and J.D. had hit back-to-back singles to begin the eighth, Upton, on a 2-2 count, got a 77-mph curveball from Angels reliever Yusmeiro Petit. The ball nearly gouged the stratosphere, soaring 113 feet according to Statcast. It landed beyond the bullpen for Upton’s 12th homer of the season.
“I haven’t particularly hit the breaking ball well this season,” said Upton, reflecting on Petit’s 2-2 pitch choice. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t have thrown it there.”
A hitter who can be as streaky as lightning has now hit in six consecutive games (.476 batting average). He leads the team with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 55 games. Should he finish in any way remotely close to last summer’s torrid, two-month wrap-up, Upton could push the 40-homer mark.
“I don’t jump to conclusions,” he said, with a sly smile, “but they’re coming.”
The Tigers bullpen worked a splendid final 2⅓ innings, with Alex Wilson finishing the seventh and pitching a spotless eighth.
Justin Wilson took care of the ninth, minus a hit, and the Tigers had again gotten back to even on the 2017 season. They’re 29-29 ahead of Thursday’s series wrap-up, with Michael Fulmer the Tigers’ choice to follow on Farmer’s work.
Ausmus appreciates that this sometimes is the path a pitcher takes, wobbling in his early auditions before settling in a couple of years later, particularly if he was an early draft pick (fifth round, Georgia Tech, 2013). The arm is there. But timelines can vary.
“You know me,” Ausmus said, reminding Farmer fans to be calm when a young pitcher can expect tougher nights. “I don’t want to throw a parade too quickly.”
Farmer has the same view. He is a laid-back Georgian who concedes the Tigers probably got overly anxious when they got into a rotation bind four years ago and stuck him on a big-league mound.
“Blur’s not the word,” Farmer said, recalling the shock of moving from Double A to a spot-start for the Tigers in 2014. “I was sleeping on an air mattress at Erie and they put me up at The Atheneum (swank downtown Detroit hotel).”
Farmer has gotten accustomed to nicer quarters on a more regular basis since that 2014 phone call.
The Tigers now hope he finds equal peace in their starting rotation.