Detroit Tigers reliever Buck Farmer felt blindsided by the events of May 6, following a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He assumed he was “skating on thin ice” but didn’t think his job was in jeopardy.
Once the team plane landed in Michigan, manager AJ Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter informed Farmer of his removal from the roster.
“It was a feeling of failure,” Farmer, 30, told the Free Press on Wednesday. “That’s the best way I could put it. I just felt like I had failed. Seemingly, I had. Just going home, thinking about it, thinking about how I got there. It’s frustrating.”
Earlier that day, Farmer inherited two runners with no outs in the sixth inning. He gave up two hits and one walk — without recording an out — to squander the lead in a 12-9 loss in the series finale. (He allowed a solo home run May 4 in the series opener, as well.)
Unsatisfied with Farmer’s performance, the Tigers designated him for assignment. Before getting cut, he was the second-longest tenured player on the 40-man roster, behind Miguel Cabrera. He cleared waivers and stayed with the organization, reporting to Triple-A Toledo. It’s a place Farmer hadn’t been since 2017.
But Toledo is where his comeback begins.
“It’s a work in progress,” Farmer said. “I hope it’s not a long road. I hope it’s a short road. That’s my plan, to make it a short road. Hopefully, we’ll be talking again soon in Detroit.”
In 12 games for the Tigers, Farmer allowed 15 earned runs on 15 hits, nine walks and six home runs across 10⅔ innings — for a 12.66 ERA. He had 10 strikeouts. He rarely got ahead in counts, and all his pitches were getting knocked around.
There weren’t many positive signs, but Farmer possesses a track record.
Farmer has appeared in 217 games in the major leagues across parts of eight seasons, beginning in 2014. He was a mainstay in Detroit’s bullpen from 2018-20 and recorded a 3.72 ERA and 3.80 ERA in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, respectively.
“He absolutely can get an opportunity to come back up here,” Hinch said. “He’s been a reliable reliever before. We’ve got to get a reset with him and get him back to executing pitches from pitch one of an outing. Quite honestly, just give him a breather and get him in a different setting, a different look.”
This season, his lack of strike throwing doomed him. He wasn’t attacking hitters with confidence. The bad outings snowballed. He struggled to find consistency. Tweaking his mechanics didn’t help.
“I pride myself on how much I work, my work ethic and everything like that,” Farmer said. “That was the biggest thing for me, what I was putting in wasn’t equaling what I was getting in return, as far as results go. Out of everything, that was the toughest pill for me to swallow. The process wasn’t equaling the outcome.”
Farmer thinks back to that outing against the Red Sox, which served as the final straw for the organization. He replaced left-hander Tyler Alexander in the sixth inning May 6 with runners on the corners and no outs.
The Tigers controlled a 7-5 lead, but Farmer issued a leadoff single to J.D. Martinez. One run scored. A seven-pitch walk to Xander Bogaerts loaded the bases. Then, Rafael Devers singled on a ground ball up the middle. Two more runs scored, giving Boston an 8-7 lead.
“I threw the pitches I wanted to, got weak contact on both of them,” Farmer said. “And both of them ended up for base hits. It was just adding insult to injury at that point. Things are already going bad, you made two good pitches and they end up for base hits. When is something going to give?”
When Hinch told Farmer the Tigers designated him for assignment, the pitcher “accepted his fate,” but immediately looked ahead.
“What do I say at that point?” Farmer said. “There’s nothing that I can say that’s going to make them change their minds. At that point, I accepted by fate. I told him I would work my tail off to get back up there. That’s really all I remember from that. They were going to make a move, and that’s that. There’s not a whole lot that can be done. It’s just move forward and look forward to getting back up there.”
His future went into limbo for five days because the Tigers had to place him on waivers. If a different team claimed him, which required adding him to the 40-man roster, then he would join a new organization.
If not, Farmer was prepared to accept his assignment in Toledo.
“As soon as one o’clock (May 11) rolled around and I cleared waivers, I was already on the road heading to Indianapolis,” Farmer said. That day, the Mud Hens were starting a six-game road series against Triple-A Indianapolis, an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Nothing is going to get done sitting on the couch,” Farmer said. “There’s nothing more I wanted to do than get back on the mound, start working and get back to playing baseball. … When I first got to Indy, that was Day 1 on the track back to the big leagues.”
A few months ago, the Tigers were adamant: They needed Farmer at his best to win games. The same remains true, even as Farmer works to rediscover himself in the minor leagues and awaits a fresh opportunity in the majors.
“I know I belong,” Farmer said. “I know I can pitch there. I feel like that’s where I should be. That’s just my feeling. I’d love to get back to the teammates I have up there. I told my agent that was the one thing I was going to miss the most if I got claimed by another team, the friendships and the teammates.
“Luckily, I’m still here and I have a chance to rejoin those guys.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.