From roster bubble to trade chip? It's been a season of ascent for Buck Farmer

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Seattle — Now they are talking about him as a trade chip.

If George Runie Farmer allowed himself to think about things like that, he’d have to laugh. Just a few months ago, there was serious debate within the Tigers organization about whether he should be on the Opening Day roster or be designated for assignment.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Buck Farmer has struck out 18 batters in his last 14.1 innings pitched.

He was out of minor-league options and the Tigers were bent on keeping Rule 5 draftee Reed Garrett. So, had Drew VerHagen not been injured late in spring training, Farmer — you know him as Buck — might not have made the team.

 And now he’s a trade chip?

Baseball is grand.

“Buck has done a really good job of late,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s one of the guys who doesn’t get enough credit for how good he’s been lately. He is throwing the ball really well and eating up a lot of innings.”

Farmer, though he has pitched in every inning this season including one start as an opener, has unseated Victor Alcantara as the sixth-seventh inning set-up man. And he’s excelled. Over his last 15 appearances he’s allowed two runs and punched out 18 in 14⅓ innings, holding opponents to a .231 average.

“He’s throwing strikes,” Gardenhire said. “He’s not walking people, not getting behind in the count. His fastball has been really good and he’s locating it better. He’s throwing it in the mid-90s (96 mph lately), so when he’s able to locate, the other stuff plays up.

“He’s not afraid to attack now. I think he has the confidence that he can attack people with his fastball.”

Most of the damage against him has come against his fastball (.329 average, .671 slugging), but a lot of that was done earlier in the year. In July, opponents are hitting just .167 against his four-seamer. That comes with increased confidence in his hard change-up — which he is still not 100 percent satisfied with.

"I'd like it to be slower, but beggars can't be choosers," he said. "If it continues to have that action (fade and sink), it doesn't matter what speed it is, it's still tough to hit."

The slider, though, remains his best secondary pitch, with a 52 percent swing-and-miss rate.

He has an 11-3 strikeout-walk ratio per nine innings and he’s getting ground balls at a 51.4 percent clip. Those are the numbers, plus the 96-mph heat and 27 percent strikeout rate, teams that are hunting bullpen help are intrigued by.

That he has a 44 percent hard-hit rate, which is in the bottom six percentile of the league, give them pause.

“People don’t realize how important that seventh inning is,” Gardenhire said. “If you have an eighth and ninth inning guy, that seventh inning is huge. He’s filled that hole for us right now. We’d scuffled in that area for a while, but lately he’s been doing a really nice job.”

It seems odd to say, but Farmer is now one of the old heads on the team. Only Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Blaine Hardy and Farmer have been with the club since 2014.

“I’m just trying to put together a good second half,” Farmer said. "I feel strong. I don’t know, maybe just with my mechanical stuff, I’m putting everything together.”

Farmer made his 46th appearance on Friday. If he stays on this almost every-other-day pace, he will pitch in a career-high 77 games. Which is OK with him.

“I’m of the mentality that any day that ends in Y, I want to be out there,” he said. “I don’t care. I was joking with the guys that I’d really like to get 80 appearances this year. I mean, that’d be a lot, and I’m obviously joking.”

Are you?

“Well, I will pitch any day that I am available,” he said. “Which to me is every day.”

Twitter: @cmccosky