February 15, 2014 in Sports

Mariners pitcher Farquhar forced to shift focus

Ryan Divish Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

M’s pitcher Danny Farquhar has shifted his focus from being the team’s closer.
(Full-size photo)

PEORIA, Ariz. – It’s not as if Danny Farquhar had spent all offseason pondering the perfect song for his ninth-inning entrance at Safeco Field. He wasn’t growing a goatee or cutting his hair differently to look more menacing in save situations.

But Farquhar believed he was going to be the Mariners’ closer going into the 2014 season. That all changed about a week ago when the word began to spread that the Mariners had agreed to a $14 million, two-year contract with free-agent All-Star reliever Fernando Rodney.

“That was my mindset the whole offseason,” Farquhar said of closing. “Then a week before we get here the news comes out.”

Farquhar knew his goal of being the closer on opening day was gone once Rodney signed his contract.

“I’m going to be honest, at first, I was a little bummed,” he said. “I wanted to have a chance to close. Obviously, he’s the guy now.”

It’s not as though Farquhar has given up on the goal. He just knows how baseball works. Barring an injury or a major meltdown, Rodney is the closer. The Mariners aren’t paying all that money for him to be a set-up man, and he’s earned it with 172 career saves.

Farquhar treated the disappointment like a blown save.

“You get over it,” he said. “It’s just like closing. You get over it and move on. I’m over it. I’m happy for him.”

In a game in which confidence is paramount, did the Rodney signing bring up questions about the Mariners’ confidence in him?

“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t even have a full year in the big leagues. I understand.”

It might not have been a full year in terms of service time, but Farquhar packed plenty into the 2013 season.

It was good enough that having visions of closing wasn’t unrealistic. By the end of last season, he was the Mariners’ best option late in games.

After pitching in a set-up role for much of the season, Farquhar took over closing duties in August and converted 16 of 18 save opportunities to close out the season. Only two other closers – Greg Holland (19) and Craig Kimbrel (18) – registered more saves during that span.

It capped a magical year for Farquhar, who appeared in 46 games. While his 4.20 earned-run average could improve, Farquhar struck out 79 batters in 55 2/3 innings. That strikeout rate of 12.77 per nine innings was fourth among American League relievers and a club record for a rookie reliever. Farquhar allowed just two homers in the 46 appearances and didn’t allow one in his final 36 1/3 innings.

“I learned that the guys in the big leagues are really good and if you make mistakes most of the times they are going to capitalize,” he said. “In the minor leagues, you get away with a lot more mistakes.”

Farquhar found out everything is magnified at the highest level.

“In the big leagues, you are on TV and everyone is watching,” he said. “It almost helped me get more focused. I’ve noticed my pitches getting more on the corners and getting sharper.”

The pitches – a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball and curveball – provided a solid arsenal for Farquhar to rack up strikeouts. But in the spirit of always improving, he’s tinkering with a fourth pitch.

“I’m pretty comfortable with my three pitches, but I am working on a four-seam change-up,” he said.

Farquhar threw it some during his first bullpen session.

“It’s slower with a little movement,” he said. “It’s not like Kuma’s (Hisashi Iwakuma) split.

“It’s not my strikeout or out pitch. It’s more, ‘Hey, I have this and you are going to have to pay attention in the middle of the count.’ ”

It’s just something to make him a little more effective – no matter what his role. But he could be an effective eighth inning set-up man for Rodney.

“You just have to change your sights,” he said. “Now I’m looking to be in the back end of the bullpen and focusing on helping this team win.”

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