LAKELAND, Fla – When your new manager is trying to learn the team and everyone spends much of the day with a mask covering their face, having a fuzzy beard isn’t a bad way to stand out.
“Meeting (the players) with a mask on is really tough,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “Buck Farmer, I’m not going to confuse anyone.”
The farmer’s beard has been cut, but his mule remains, so it’s hard to miss him on the training grounds this week at the club’s facilities in Tiger Town.
Another reason why Hinch probably won’t forget Farmer? He plans to use it a lot.
“I don’t mean to say I’m jack of all trades and master of nothing, but I guess that’s what I got used to,” Farmer said.
Farmer, who turned 30 on February 20, has spent his entire career with the Tigers organization.
Jim Leyland was Detroit’s manager when he was drafted in 2013; Brad Ausmus was in charge when he made his Major League debut in 2014, pitching for a club that was in the thick of the pennant race.
He spent the next three seasons bouncing between Triple-A Toledo and Detroit, the reliever box and a starting role. During that time, he started 74 games and came out of the pen 22 times. He has been opted for the minor leagues 16 times.
Since 2018 – the Ron Gardenhire / Rebuild Era, if you will – he had a steady job in the Surveys Pen.
Farmer has a 3.92 ERA in 158 innings over that span and was coming off the best season of his career when the pandemic put baseball to a halt last March.
His withdrawal rate dipped slightly in 2020, although it’s hard to draw sweeping conclusions from such a short year and Farmer has remained one of the Tigers’ most reliable relievers.
What will he do in 2021 under Hinch?
Probably more of the same, that is, a bit of everything.
Hinch has said he wants all of his relievers to be able to pitch multiple innings – or at least complete one and start another – and Farmer finds that plan enjoyable.
“I like AJ’s state of mind,” he says. “I think it’s going to keep the guys locked up and on their toes. Maybe we’ll see a lot of guys in roles we’ve never seen before.
Farmer said he spent the summer working on improving his slider so he had the confidence to throw it more frequently.
“Especially with the lefties, the book on me was just like, ‘Hey, look for the fastball and sit on the change,’” Farmer said. “I think it caught up with me a bit last year, even though it was a shortened season. If the change didn’t work that day, you know, all I really had was the fastball then. The simple fact of being able to launch the cursor is going to be enormous.
Unless surprisingly, Farmer will be the second oldest pitcher in the tigers field (after Jose Cisnero) and have the second longest serving time (after Daniel Norris).
If he’s not the dean, he’s awfully close.
“It’s a little mind-boggling to think of how fast this is going,” he said.