02/20/11 11:46 AM EST
Matured Farnsworth in mix for Rays' closer job
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
He stands an intimidating 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He achieved a black belt in tae kwon do as a teenager, but no longer practices. He owns bulldogs named Strike and Rambo, and one more thing -- he's capable of throwing a 100-mph fastball, though at 33, the triple-digit heaters are not as prevalent as they once were.
However, cut through Farnsworth's façade, and the most compelling evidence that he is the early favorite to become the Rays' closer is the fact he's no longer a thrower. Instead, he's evolved into a pitcher.
"I might be able to get [the fastball] up there [around 100 mph] every now and then," Farnsworth said. "But those days are probably gone. That's what I could do when I was in my 20s. I'm starting to get old now. I was more of a thrower then. The older you get, the wiser you get, and you begin to figure out that the less pitches you throw the quicker outs you get, and the longer you can stay [in the game]."
Farnsworth first arrived to the Major Leagues in 1999 as a hard-throwing right-hander with the Cubs. Now he has 713 Major League games under his belt, and a 34-55 record with a 4.39 ERA and 841 strikeouts in 837 innings. The ability to overpower hitters remains a component of who he is, only now he is more evolved, which he maintained was a survival instinct derived from hitters who were adjusting to him.
"They're going to make adjustments and it's my job to make adjustments to them, too," Farnsworth said. "Come up with different pitches and come up with different things -- and that's what I've been trying to do the last couple of years. And it seems to be working pretty well."
Farnsworth has added a sinker and a cutter to his fastball/slider repertoire over the past couple of years, and he is still working to refine both pitches. His evolution toward being a more complete pitcher caught the Rays' attention, according to manager Joe Maddon.
"Over the last two years, that was a big part of why we were so interested [in Farnsworth]," Maddon said. "The last year and a half, last two years, he's really improved in certain categories we liked, and it really does speak to him pitching more as opposed to him going out there and trying to overpower or throw the ball. That was one of the reasons why we did [want him].
"If you dig into the numbers, the pitches he was throwing, the types of pitches that he threw, made him more effective from both sides of the plate. That's what made him [attractive to us]. ... His veteranship and the fact that he's got experience [added to the interest]. We need that kind of stuff. This guy's [33 years old] ... and he has the body of an 18-year-old. He's a good fit for us, we feel."
Farnsworth has just 27 career saves, which would seem to make the anointing of him as the team's closer a bit premature. Maddon has said that, at some point, a closer could emerge from his bullpen, but he doesn't anticipate that happening before the end of camp. That means the most likely scenario will see Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Farnsworth, and J.P. Howell -- if he makes a healthy return to the team in May -- work in harmony as a bullpen-by-committee.
Farnsworth acknowledged that the closer spot is "definitely open for the taking."
"Like I've said before, I'm not a vocal guy, so I let my production speak for itself," Farnsworth said. "I'll go out there and try and do the best I can -- let them make the decision on their own, based on performance."
He did allow that "it would be good" to become the closer.
"But there are guys here who are capable of doing that also," Farnsworth said. "I'm not the kind of guy who's going to say I want that job. I'll just let performance speak for itself."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.