Detroit — Buck Farmer admits he endured some dark thoughts. There he was, 31 years old, with parts of nine big-league seasons under his belt, — eight with the Tigers — with a wife and two young children back in Georgia, shuffling his bags into the Triple-A clubhouse at Louisville.
This was May 2022.
He’d been released by the Tigers in August of 2021 and finished the season pitching for Round Rock, the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate. The Rangers never gave him a sniff, but he pitched in September and he parlayed that to a spot on the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day roster last season — a spot he earned as a non-roster invitee.
But on May 4 in Milwaukee last season, he got tagged for four runs and was, again, designated for assignment. Off off the 40-man roster. Back in Triple-A.
“I did my due diligence, spent my time and came back,” Farmer said before the game Tuesday. “But, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I thought about retiring. I did. I mean, 31 years old and in Triple-A, it makes you take a step back.”
He had some long talks with his wife, Kayla. He thought long and hard about going home and just being a husband and a father. But something was telling him it wasn’t time to walk away.
“It’s been quite a journey these past two years, that’s for sure,” he said. “I told my wife that I was going to continue. I wanted to play at least one more year, so I could say I played 10 years professionally. I’m glad I did.
“The big man upstairs looked after me and helped me finish up strong last year and we’ve kind of rolled it into this year.”
The big man upstairs, for sure, but his offseason pitching trainer, Michael O’Neal, and Reds assistant pitching coach Alon Leichman were looking out for him, too.
Starting with O’Neal, a former Drive-Line instructor who is currently a pitching coach in the Brewers’ organization. He got Farmer to scrap his old slider grip and rearranged his whole thought process on what a slider can and should be.
“That was a point of emphasis for the 2021 offseason,” Farmer said. “Just trying to work on that, get more consistent, get more movement. The guy I work with in Georgia during the offseason (O’Neal), he basically banged my grip and everything about how I threw that pitch.
“And then I took it into this year and Alon, who is kind of our analytics and pitch-design guy, helped me tremendously.”
The revamped slider has returned Farmer to his workhorse status in the Reds’ bullpen. Entering the series back in Detroit, his first time back at Comerica Park since he was released, he’s pitched 68.1 innings over 64 games, posting a 3.56 ERA with a 1.068 WHIP.
Hitters are 7-for-67 (.104) against the slider with a 44.7% swing-and-miss rate.
“It’s not always perfect, but I know what it can be,” Farmer said of the slider. “I’ve got the thought process down and now I know what it actually feels like to spin a ball.”
He actually throws two different sliders — a more sweepy one that has 10-15 inches of horizontal movement — and a shorter one, six to nine inches, with more sinking action.
He throws it off a 94-mph four-seamer and he still mixes in what used to be his money pitch, the changeup (31.7% whiff rate). In his last two seasons with the Tigers, his walk rate was over 12%. This year, it’s down to 8.8%.
“It’s been a wild ride, but I can honestly say I’m more than 100% blessed to be here and be part of a winning club, too,” he said. “I’m enjoying my time, for sure. This is a good group of dudes here. I’m just trying to hang around for a few more years.
“Hopefully, we can finish up strong and get to the postseason. Then, we’ll see what free agency brings.”
Around the horn
… There was no news regarding injured Tigers outfielder Riley Greene Tuesday. The club is still waiting for medical evaluations on his injured right elbow. “It’s just a waiting game,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s actually not here. He’s off-site seeing different doctors.” With a little more than two weeks left in the season, though, it’s increasingly unlikely Greene returns.
… Miguel Cabrera (knee soreness) was back in the lineup Tuesday. “He’s feeling a ton better,” Hinch said. “The three days off was important for him.” The plan is for Cabrera to play again Wednesday, but not start the day game Thursday. The Tigers are expected to face three left-handed starters in Anaheim, so Hinch said tentatively that Cabrera will play two of three, probably the first two.
… Lefty Tyler Alexander (left shoulder and lat strain) has been cleared to initiate his throwing program. He threw off flat ground before the game Tuesday and will throw four times a week. He won’t pitch again this season but he is on track to have a somewhat normal offseason and be ready to compete at the start of spring training.
… Former Tigers lefty Chasen Shreve flew to Detroit with the Reds but was informed before the game that he’d been designated for assignment. He got the news after he’d arrived at Comerica Park. Tough business. The Tigers designated him for assignment earlier this season after he flew with them to Boston.
Reds at Tigers
First pitch: 6:40 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park
TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit/97.1.
RHP Connor Phillips (0-0, 9.64), Reds: The Reds’ No. 4-ranked prospect, this will be his second big-league start. The first one went poorly. He ran afoul of a hot Mariners team (five runs, two homers, 4.2 innings). He features a high-velocity four-seamer (97 mph) and a sweeper. He also mixes a curveball.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (11-7, 3.18), Tigers: He’s only faced the Reds once in his career, but it’s a good memory for him. He blanked them on three hits over 7.2 innings in Cincy on Sept. 23, 2017. He’s won three of his last four starts. And 22 starts in, he’s still holding hitters under .200 with three different pitches — cutter, sinker and slider.