Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. — Jack of all trades, master of none.
That bodes well for new manager AJ Hinch, who is going to push his relievers to pitch multiple innings this season. If Farmer has the hot hand, Hinch will let him loose and ask for more than three outs.
“He is a guy who can mentally handle the unknown,” Hinch said Thursday, the second day of pitcher-catcher workouts in spring training. “Since he’s done it all, he can handle it all. His best role is when he’s used a lot. It’s when he’s used in various roles. He doesn’t need a ton of warning, and that’s music to my ears. You’ll see him in a more versatile role, albeit an important role when we’re winning games.”
Turning 30 years old Saturday, Farmer has started 21 games in his seven-year MLB career. The 6-foot-4 righty has also been a long reliever and, most recently, an eighth-inning arm toward the end of the 2019 season and throughout 2020.
And Farmer, now sporting a Charlie Daniels-esque beard which he hasn’t trimmed since August, isn’t complaining about shifting away from a defined role.
“I like AJ’s mindset,” Farmer said Thursday. “I think it’s going to keep a lot of guys locked in, on their toes. We’ll see a lot of guys in roles we haven’t seen them in before.”
Combining the last two seasons, Farmer has been the Tigers’ most effective reliever, with a 3.74 ERA, 87 strikeouts and 29 walks in 89 innings. To take the next step, he is leaning on the analytical minds of Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter.
Last year, he used his four-seam fastball 52.8% of the time, followed by his changeup (32.6%) and his sweeping slider (14.7%).
“Becoming more comfortable in throwing my slider,” Farmer said. “I talked with Chris Fetter a good bit, even early on here in camp, about using it more and not being assumed as just a two-pitch guy with a slider in his back pocket.”
BEYOND INCREDIBLE: What Daniel Norris thinks about Chris Fetter
Against left-handed hitters, Farmer used 116 fastballs, 91 changeups and 14 sliders. They hit .150 against his fastball, .381 against his changeup and .500 against his slider.
Against right-handed hitters, Farmer used 64 fastballs, 20 changeups and 36 sliders — a much better mix of his three pitchers. The righties hit .273 against his fastball, .200 against his changeup and .000 against his slider.
“Especially against left-handers, the book on me was just like, ‘Hey, look for the fastball, sit on the changeup,'” Farmer said. “Honestly, that’s all I used with a left-hander in the box, and I can’t fall into that. It caught up to me a little bit last season. And if the changeup’s not working that day, all I have is a fastball.
“Just being able to throw the slider, whether it be back-foot, back-door, or early 0-0 (count) to a lefty, and righty, too, is going to be huge.”
Left-hander Gregory Soto had a 4.30 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks in 23 innings across 27 games for the Tigers last season, recording two saves. His fastball velocity averaged 97.3 mph and touched 100 mph numerous times. Yet the slider is his best pitch, holding opponents to a .056 batting average in 2020.
“I want to see what he can do inside the strike zone to be an important ingredient of the bullpen,” Hinch said. “When he gets in trouble, it’s because he can’t find consistency around the strike zone. Nobody wants to hit him. Nobody wants to face him. He’s got elite stuff, but we need strikes.
“The more I see his confidence growing — he wants to be the closer, he wants to pitch in high-leverage. If he can back that up with effectiveness in the strike zone, then he can fill just about any role we ask of him. I think he’s going to be a big ingredient in our ‘pen.”
Tickets sold out
The Tigers put spring training tickets for 15 games at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on sale at noon Thursday. By 3 p.m., there were no tickets left.
Inside the ballpark, there will be approximately 2,000 fans at each game, reduced to around 20% of the 9,777-maximum capacity for the facility. For the first time since March 12, 2020, Tigers fans will watch the team play from the stands.
NEW SCHEDULE: 29 spring training games with fans in the stands
“There’s a reason Tigers fans are the best in baseball, and today’s remarkable show of support for our ballclub confirms just that,” said Chris Granger, Ilitch Holdings’ Group president of sports and entertainment, said in a released statement. “There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the team as we begin a new season, and we’re thrilled that fans have responded in such a strong way.
“I’d like to commend our staff in Lakeland and Detroit for their hard work so that we can safely welcome fans back into the stands, beginning with Grapefruit League action.”
The Tigers’ first spring training game is Feb. 28 against the Philadelphia Phillies in Lakeland.