Lakeland, Fla. — Manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Chris Bosio are very much on the same page about one particular aspect of pitching: they love power-armed relievers.
“One of the things we’re looking for is power arms,” Gardenhire said Saturday after the Tigers’ 9-3 exhibition win over the Yankees before a full house and berm at Publix Field (10,077). “There is no substitute for bringing a guy out of the bullpen who is throwing 95-96 mph with a sharp breaking ball.”
And that’s precisely why right-hander Buck Farmer has thrust himself right into the thick of the fight for one of the final bullpen spots. He threw two more scoreless innings Saturday, running his streak of zeros to eight this spring.
“We knew he had a great arm,” Gardenhire said. “He’s pounding the strike zone and working ahead and all those things we like to see. And he’s working fast.”
Since moving to the bullpen early in camp, Farmer has looked like a more confident and comfortable pitcher. He has allowed only two hits in his eight innings of work, with nine strikeouts.
Having a set role has helped, for sure. In shorter stints, he’s able to cut his fastball loose. Seven of his 10 pitches in his first inning of work against the Yankees were fastballs at 95 or 96 mph.
“That’s helped a lot,” he said. “But, I won’t go too much into it, but we’ve had some guys come in here who have really helped us mentally — helped me out a lot.”
The Tigers have long employed mental coaches. Farmer didn’t want to go into specifics about it but said it’s helped him in terms of self-belief.
“It’s like not letting your mind wander to what the consequences could be,” he said. “If you get a runner to third, don’t think, ‘Oh, god, I’ve got to make this pitch or he’s going to hit it out of the park.’
“It’s just trust yourself, trust the process. I’ve come to grips with the fact that the only thing I can control is letting that pitch go and trusting it every time. Whatever happens after that happens.”
Farmer wasn’t the only player on the roster bubble who bolstered his case.
Utility man Alexi Amarista seems close to securing one of the two available bench roles. He tripled into the right-center gap off Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka in the third inning and scored ahead of Leonys Martin, who banged his third home run of the spring.
Amarista added a hard single to right in the third. He’s a left-handed hitting veteran, who could creditably back-up third base and second base, as well as in center field.
Last spring Tanaka pitched five no-hit innings against the Tigers. He wasn’t nearly as much of a mystery to them on this day. Miguel Cabrera hit his first home run of the spring in the first inning — an opposite-field shot that just cleared the wall in right.
Martin’s two-run homer was part of a four-run third inning. Victor Martinez had two more hits, including an RBI shift-busting single.
Nick Castellanos contributed an RBI double.
The offense bailed out starting pitcher Matthew Boyd, who grinded through three-plus innings despite flu-like symptoms.
“My daughter got sick and she got me sick,” said Boyd, who allowed two earned runs, five hits and two walks. “But that’s no excuse. I just didn’t have my good stuff.”
He knew early on that his fastball command was off. He went to three-ball counts on three of the first four batters in a 33-pitch first inning.
That inning also featured a balk with a runner on third.
“I screwed up the sign,” he said. “I was going to throw a fastball in and Mac (catcher James McCann) was setting up away like I was going to throw something soft. I didn’t want to hurt him. That was purely my fault.”
It was the second time this year Boyd and his catcher have been crossed up on a sign. The first time, Boyd just lobbed a pitch toward the plate and it was swatted to the fence, a long fly out. This time, he held on to the ball, even though he knew a run would score on the balk.
“It wasn’t a brain fart,” he said. “I knew I was going to balk in a run and you don’t do that. But I didn’t want to put Mac in danger and take a chance on hurting our starting catcher. I should’ve just thrown it in the ground.
“We ironed it out. I don’t foresee us messing up a sign in the future.”
Of the 79 pitches Boyd threw, only 43 were strikes. He can’t survive with that ratio. Also, 42 of his 79 pitches were either off-speed or curveballs. That’s not a good ratio, either. The Yankees hitters were sitting on his slow stuff.
“My fastball command wasn’t good today,” he said. “Ideally, you want to be able to command everything. But when you don’t, then you kind of go down the checklist and that’s what he did. We went to a check down.
“It was a battle but we got through it.”
Make a memory
Minor-league camper Chad Sedio had himself a moment Saturday. In his first at-bat in a Grapefruit League game, he crushed a two-run home run. The 23-year-old utility player from Medina, Ohio spent the bulk of last season at Low-A West Michigan, where he hit 11 home runs in 80 games.