The Detroit Tigers unlocked a sense of normalcy again in their bullpen Thursday when the organization activated right-handed reliever Buck Farmer from the 10-day injured list.
He has been sidelined since sustaining a left groin strain Aug. 9. The Tigers shipped him to the alternate training site in Toledo the next day for a brief rehabilitation stint with the reserve squad. He tossed 15 pitches in a simulated game Wednesday and on Friday said he feels healthy.
A lot has changed since his departure, specifically a nine-game losing streak that has brought a somber air to the clubhouse at times.
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“I can feel the clubhouse, it’s not exactly the same,” said Farmer, who returns to a team with a 9-14 record. “Just because you don’t want to go out and lose eight (games), or whatever, in a row. … We have a group thread, text-wise, and the spirits are still there.”
Once Farmer went to the injured list, manager Ron Gardenhire was forced to adjust his bullpen roles. He used a mix of left-hander Gregory Soto and righties Jose Cisnero and Bryan Garcia in a variety of roles — less to lock down games and more to weather an ailing starting rotation.
Receiving Farmer from Toledo should let those relievers return to their usual roles and boost their performances.
“It helps a lot when guys have their set roles, innings that they can prepare both mentally and physically for,” Farmer said Friday. “Hopefully, moving forward, we’re able to start stringing some things together and get guys back to throwing up zeros.
“And get the bullpen back to just being a great contributing factor for us.”
Two days before getting injured, Farmer gave up two runs in the eighth on one out before Gardenhire replaced him. That struggle sparked an implosion by the back end of the bullpen; he and closer Joe Jimenez blew a five-run lead and forced extra innings in Pittsburgh, though the Tigers eventually won in 11 innings.
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Other than that outing, Farmer has been dominant for the Tigers — his six other appearances have been scoreless with only one hit and two walks allowed over six innings.
Farmer’s success in the setup role dates back to 2019.
“He’s been good, starting last year and taking over that role,” Gardenhire said Thursday. “He’s been as good as anybody. I mean, he’s got a changeup that’s as good as you’re gonna see, and his fastball is in the mid-90s now. He’s really made himself into a product.
“He made himself a name, and it’s nice to have him back, I can tell you that.”
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His early season success also played well off the work of Soto, who succeeded in the seventh inning with his 100 mph fastball.
After Soto pounded the strike zone with his fastball, Farmer entered with a nifty combination of his fastball (51.5%) and changeup (40.8%). The formula got the ball to Jimenez with a lead in the ninth multiple times over the season’s first two weeks.
But the 25-year-old Soto stumbled while Farmer was out. (Though in Soto’s defense, neither the Tigers’ bats nor their starters have been good enough to hand leads off to the bullpen in that span.)
He gave up four earned runs without recording an out in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 10-4 loss. The next day — pitching in the eighth again, this time in a tie game — he allowed solo homers to Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion, sending the Tigers to a 5-3 loss in Casey Mize’s MLB debut.
“That first home run Abreu hit, goodness gracious, that ball was like 98 mph and shoulder high,” Gardenhire said. “And then he made a mistake pitch to Encarnacion. We thought if he had just thrown another slider, he probably got him out.”
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Gardenhire noticed Soto’s frustration, so he met with him in the training room for a chat. He told him: “Son, you’re throwing the ball great. It’s gonna happen. You just got to live with it.”
Soto opened the season with 10⅓ scoreless innings, pushing the Tigers to try “to make him into something,” Gardenhire said. He added that the team believes Soto’s struggles in 2020 will pay dividends for years.
Having Farmer back in the bullpen should further assist his development.
“Buck brings a lot to the table,” Gardenhire said. “He’s our setup guy, and this allows us to get these other guys in the right situations where we think they’ll do best.”
Carson Fulmer cut
To make room for Farmer, the Tigers designed right-handed reliever Carson Fulmer for assignment. Because the former first-round pick (No. 8 overall in 2015) is out of options, he must clear waivers before returning to Toledo.
In 6⅔ innings, the early season waiver addition from the Chicago White Sox allowed five runs on eight hits and three walks.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.