Tigers right-hander Buck Farmer didn’t know he was getting a new role Wednesday night, but he learned when the usual closer, Joe Jimenez, began warming up during the bottom of the fifth inning.
Jimenez’s entrance music blared through the speakers at a fan-free Comerica Park. Nobody was around to cheer for him. Yet there he was, trotting to the mound for the sixth inning for only the third time in four years.
A few pitches later, he gave up a home run on a 94 mph fastball to Kyle Schwarber.
[ Tigers’ Funkhouser has earned his innings. Now he has to refine his pitch mix ]
“He’s a little out of whack,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “A little frustrated. Overthrowing the ball. We decided we’re going to try to get him in a situation where it’s a little easier on him right now. He made one bad pitch. He threw one to the backstop, but I thought the ball was coming out a little better.”
The Tigers improved to 13-16 Wednesday with a 7-6 win against the Chicago Cubs. It was their fourth victory in six games and their second win in as many series. To carry that success into the final 31 games this season, they’re going to need a reliable closer.
That hadn’t been Jimenez since the calender turned to August. In July, Jimenez posted four saves in four tries. But this month, he had allowed 11 earned runs in 4⅔ innings, including seven runs and only two outs in his past two outings. Those results forced Gardenhire to make a significant change.
“We really hadn’t talked about it,” Farmer said. “I get there’s always labels put on guys, setup guy, closer, but sometimes it gets to the point in the season where, yeah, there have to be some adjustments made.”
[ Why Tigers reliever Daniel Norris isn’t focused on starting again this season ]
After Jimenez’s inning, the Tigers went to right-hander Bryan Garcia, who got two outs in the seventh. In came righty Jose Cisnero, who whiffed Javier Baez with a 97.7 mph fastball above the strike zone.
“He’s been one of our best arms coming out of the ‘pen,” catcher Austin Romine said. “Cisnero does a really good job throwing fastballs up in the zone, and guys are having trouble getting on top. Staying aggressive.”
Lefty Gregory Soto handled the eighth without a blemish.
Farmer entered the ninth with the Tigers leading 7-3, but he allowed three runs on four hits before getting the final out. He gave up an RBI single to Nico Hoerner, an RBI double to Albert Almora and, finally, a sacrifice fly to Anthony Rizzo on a changeup that nearly went over the wall in center — until Victor Reyes saved him.
[ Schoop says Tigers can still contend for playoffs. The numbers back that up ]
“That’s been our M.O. this year, to be perfectly honest with you,” Farmer said. “And that’s guys picking up each other. Reyes made a heck of a play, and it boosted me to get back in the zone and trust my defense.”
These are the late-inning pitchers the Tigers plan to stick with, using Jimenez early, then dipping into the pool of Garcia, Cisnero, Soto and Farmer for the late stages.
Farmer, 29, wants to become a mainstay as the closer, and before Wednesday’s ninth-inning implosion, he had a 2.89 ERA.
That inning raised his ERA to 5.23 ERA in 10⅓ innings. Still, it’s better than Jimenez’s results, at 12.10 in 9⅔ innings. Jimenez’s command didn’t look impressive Wednesday, either, with a pitch sailing over David Bote’s head before he ended the sixth with a groundout.
Because of those miscues, Farmer appears to have the edge in the closer role moving forward, but he isn’t going to let that alter his mentality on the mound.
“I haven’t had the opportunity, really, to ever work in the ninth,” Farmer said. “It’s a bit different, but in saying that, the job is still the job. No matter the situation, whether we’re up by 10, up by one, down by 10, down by one, you still have to go out there and get three outs.
“The job doesn’t change.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.