Farnsworth takes aim at improving in '07

Farnsworth taking aim at improving in 2007

TAMPA, Fla. -- It takes a certain degree of patience and focus to be a reliever.

The time spent in the bullpen away from the actual game requires a dedicated approach to waiting that is unlike many other positions in sports.

When a reliever's name is called, he must summon a sense of urgency in an instant or his moment to shine will be gone before it's realized.

For Kyle Farnsworth, he realizes and lives those moments often and always; not just in baseball, but in hunting as well.

On Thursday, he learned that the newest member of the Yankees, Andy Pettitte -- who happens to be a veteran of the Yankees, too -- shares in that passion as well.

After morning workouts at the club's Spring Training complex, Farnsworth, who purchased 2,500 acres in Georgia a year ago, happened to be showing off some pictures of a couple of buck deer he had hunted during the offseason, when the veteran left-hander took notice.

Pettitte, who sits two lockers away from Farnsworth, perked up and excitedly asked, "How many points?"

Farnsworth, who had only met Pettitte once in his seven-year career, beamed, knowing he had a fellow hunter in the mix just a few feet away.

"A 10-pointer and a 12-pointer."

A buck deer is typically measured by the amount of points on the antler rack, and both pitchers understood the language.

It was a comfortable encounter that Farnsworth hopes will allow him to improve upon last season.

"Yeah, it was pretty cool to hear that he's into it," said Farnsworth, who spent most of the offseason hunting in Georgia, Missouri and Illinois.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound reliever, who developed a passion for both baseball and hunting while growing up in Georgia, spoke at length on Wednesday about his assessment of 2006 and how he hopes to improve in 2007.

"I think the main thing is that I was trying to be too perfect," said Farnsworth, who went 3-6 with a 4.36 ERA in his first year with the Yankees. "A lot of times I found myself trying to be a pitcher instead of just doing what I do best."

Farnsworth admitted to being a bit overwhelmed last season by the mystique that surrounds being a Yankee, and he felt it affected the way he pitched. With a fastball that often times can top 100 mph, the hard-throwing righty found himself working out of jams after trying to finesse batters with a breaking ball to start the count.

"The most important thing for him is his pitch selection," said pitching coach Ron Guidry. "If you have the ability to throw 98, 99, 100, why are you throwing breaking ball to start the count? You're putting yourself in a hole to start.

"Everybody tries to make that good first pitch, but with his ability, he can just let it go. And if it's anywhere in the strike zone, then hitters will miss. If he can get in that frame of mind, then I think Kyle Farnsworth can be a lot better."

Farnsworth, who had a chance to sign with the Rangers before the 2006 season to be their closer, moved from setup reliever to Mariano Rivera's spot when the veteran righty went down at the beginning of September with a strained right forearm. Farnsworth saved four of his five chances during the month and looked much better, striking out six and walking none in eight innings during the stretch.

"He and many of our other relievers had to take innings that we hadn't expected," said Guidry. "We had three guys rank at the top as far as innings pitched, and it showed at certain points of the season -- the fatigue and stress they accumulated."

Farnsworth, who appeared in 72 games (fifth in the Majors) and had 19 holds (eighth), joined Scott Proctor and Randy Villone as Yankees pitchers who pitched in more than 70 games. Farnsworth never went on the disabled list, but he missed several games due to back spasms.

On Thursday, though, he said he felt strong, despite the chilly weather that swept through Tampa.

"It feels good, which is comforting," said Farnsworth, who gave himself a grade of B-minus for the 2006 season. "I want to avoid getting into stretches this year where I'm having my pitch count rise in one or two innings. That way, I can be strong throughout the season."

When asked if Rivera's comments about testing the free-agent waters at the end of the season might affect his performance in a positive way, Farnsworth noted that he understands and respects his role.

"I can't worry about what other people might or might not do," he said. "All I need to do is take care of my business and I know what that is. I have to be more aggressive and I just simply have to pitch. I have to make as few pitches as possible and reduce the innings. I can do that if I get ahead in the count and keep hitters guessing. That just comes from having a better focus and feeling more comfortable."

Which is a target the Yankees hope is pure.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.