Rays at Pirates
Other area teams
Phillies at Blue Jays, 1:05, Dunedin
Yankees at Red Sox, 7:05, Fort Myers. TV: ESPN
Pitchers who went latest into their careers before a 25-save season:
|David Weathers, Reds||17th||2007||33|
|John Smoltz, Braves||14th||2002||55|
|Kyle Farnsworth, Rays||13th||2011||25|
|Hoyt Wilhelm, WSox||13th||1964||27|
|Mike Jackson, Indians||13th||1998||40|
PORT CHARLOTTE — Semantics, really. That's all it is.
Kyle Farnsworth saved 25 games for the Rays last season. Of their 44 save situations, he got the call 31 times (while missing two-plus weeks with elbow issues). Every one of his 63 appearances came from the eighth inning on. He finished 51 games.
But, still …
As many times as manager Joe Maddon called on Farnsworth to save the Rays last season, he did not once actually, officially call him the closer.
And given how unexpectedly well it worked out, and how incredibly important Farnsworth was — and is — to the Rays' success, Maddon isn't about to start now.
"I don't want him to think anything differently than he thought last year," Maddon said. "I don't want anybody else to think anything differently. I just like the way it went.
"I'm going to call him Kyle."
Pitching coach Jim Hickey, even more appreciative, goes one further: "I just call him Mr. Farnsworth."
Farnsworth, 35, laughs about the whole thing, that high-pitched giggle that you don't expect from the fierce-looking, camo-wearing, truck-driving guy ESPN The Magazine once dubbed the baddest man in baseball.
"Whatever he wants to do," Farnsworth said. "It worked last year. It doesn't matter to me. I'm just happy to be able to still be pitching."
This will be Farnsworth's 18th season in pro ball, 14th in the majors. He'd been a starter early on and a middle reliever most of the rest of the time. He had 16 saves in a 2005 season split between Detroit and Atlanta and collected 11 others over the years. But he never had the opportunity presented last season, to be the main man, albeit in all but name.
The secret to success, he found, was not doing anything differently.
"I just got an opportunity and just went out and tried to do the best I could," he said. "Tried not to control things I can't control, do what I'm able to do and go from there.
"In a way, I guess it's all in the way you look at it. You just try to look at it the same, whether it's the first inning or the last inning. The game's hard enough as it is, there's enough stuff going on, to worry about what inning you're pitching."
The one thing Farnsworth did learn was to stop using his split-finger fastball. He threw it regularly in 2001 and it hurt his elbow. He threw it again in 2006 and it hurt his elbow. And he starting throwing it again last year — probably about 20 times total — and it hurt his elbow, idling him for much of September.
"It was just stupid," Farnsworth said. "It's definitely not going to be thrown from my arm anymore."
The Rays felt comfortable enough with the elbow to pick up his $3.3 million option, which Farnsworth was hoping for since he enjoyed playing near his Disney-area home — close enough that he made the drive each way every day, allowing him to either take the kids to school or bring the two boys to the Trop.
(And leading to the question of whether it's tougher to traverse I-4 daily than to close out, say, the Yankees. "It depends which way you're going," he said. "If you're going toward Orlando, yes. If you're going toward Tampa, it's not all that bad.")
Maddon and Hickey learned a few things about Farnsworth, primarily that he wasn't just the hard-thrower they'd seen from across the field or on TV but much more of a pitcher, and a pitch-maker, similar to what they saw in Rafael Soriano in 2010.
Specifically, how Farnsworth would take things slower as the pace quickened, using his off-speed pitches in key situations.
"I saw game-planning and I saw execution of pitches," Maddon said. "He never got riled, he had a great heartbeat the whole time. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know him. I hadn't seen him. All that stuff was fabulous."
Almost, you might say, like a closer.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.