Righty fans career-high 11, holds White Sox scoreless over 6 1/3 IP, earns first Majors win
By Fabian Ardaya
CHICAGO -- Buck Farmer may not have guaranteed himself a Major League roster spot with his brief audition on Saturday afternoon, but the right-hander certainly did more than enough to plant the seeds in the minds of those in charge of making that decision.
Farmer, making his season debut and just his ninth big league start, was brilliant at Guaranteed Rate Field, shutting down the White Sox over 6 1/3 scoreless innings as the Tigers earned a doubleheader split with a 4-3 victory.
The 26-year-old, up with the big league club as the 26th man on the back end of a doubleheader, struck out nine over the game's first four innings and ended his night with a career-high 11 strikeouts -- the most of any Tigers starter this season. He held the White Sox to three hits and issued just two walks on 103 pitches.
There was also a stat that had eluded him through his first 32 big league appearances -- his first Major League win.
"It's been a long time coming, I'll say that," Farmer said. "I've waited the better parts of three different seasons for it, so it feels good to kind of get that weight off my shoulders."
Farmer worked a powerful slider-changeup combination throughout the afternoon, dipping the changeup away from left-handed bats and tailing his slider off the plate to righties to induce 22 swing-and-misses. It was the most polished performance of the season for Farmer -- who had gone 1-3 with a 4.12 ERA in nine starts with Triple-A Toledo -- and the most polished he had been in the eyes of manager Brad Ausmus.
"He was much more in control," Ausmus said. "He's been to the big leagues a couple times now, so I think he's a lot calmer on the mound. He's a lot headier, he's not overwhelmed by the atmosphere or the hitters he's facing."
John Hicks, who caught three of those Triple-A starts this season and many others in 2016, was behind the plate Saturday. While Hicks' fourth-inning homer gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn't let go of, he was more amazed with Farmer's performance.
"It's tough to be as crisp as he was today," Hicks said. "He was really good. He had all of it working. He dumped a few curveballs in for strikes early, sliders, the changeup was really good and the fastball he commanded as well as I've ever seen him do."
Much of Farmer's previous big league tenure has not mirrored Saturday's level of dominance. His career 6.84 ERA and 7.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio entering Saturday shows that. But Farmer showed himself to be a different pitcher in Chicago, as he and Michael Fulmer -- who tossed an eight-inning complete game in the first leg of the doubleheader -- combined to ease the workload of a tired bullpen.
It also left an impression on Ausmus that could prove helpful as the season progresses.
"Certainly if we need a starter at any point -- and there's a good chance we will -- then [Farmer] would probably be the guy."
Farmer's return to the big leagues was short-lived. Following Saturday's game, he was optioned back to Triple-A just as most 26th men are. His performance, however, will stay with the big club.
"I knew I was the 26th man, but I guess that's my goal every time I come up: just leave them with something," Farmer said. "Hopefully I'll be back sooner rather than later."
Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.