The Detroit Tigers' starting rotation has been shorthanded all season long. Justin Verlander, who is still rehabbing a triceps strain, threw a simulated game in Oakland on Tuesday and is close to returning. However, after placing starters Kyle Lobstein and Alfredo Simon on the disabled and bereavement lists, respectively, the Tigers need pitching help now.
Enter Kyle Ryan and Buck Farmer, two starters who have spent the first two months of the season pitching at Triple-A Toledo. Farmer has been slated to start Thursday night's game against the Angels ever since Lobstein was placed on the disabled list on Sunday. Farmer made four appearances for the Tigers last season, including two starts, and was 0-1 with an 11.57 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. He tallied 11 strikeouts to five walks while allowing two home runs.
Farmer's rough finish to the 2014 season left some doubt as to how he would fare above Single-A West Michigan, where he held opponents to a 2.60 ERA and 2.78 FIP in 103 2/3 innings last season. He has done all he can to silence those doubters in 2015, compiling a 5-1 record and 2.98 ERA in nine starts at Triple-A Toledo. He currently leads the International League with 50 strikeouts, and he has walked just 19 batters in 51 1/3 innings.
Farmer has been extremely tough on right-handed batters this year, a good omen considering the Angels have one of the more righty-heavy lineups in the American League. Righties have hit just .211/.275/.303 against Farmer in Triple-A competition this season, and are striking out at a 26.7 percent rate. Lefties are only faring slightly better at .220/.301/.366, but Farmer has just 18 strikeouts to 10 walks against left-handed batters this season.
Ryan, meanwhile, is making a beeline across the country after the Tigers announced that Simon would be heading back to the Dominican Republic to be with his ailing father. Because of his late departure, Ryan's status for Wednesday's game is in doubt, and the Tigers may be forced to rely on the bullpen for all nine innings in the series finale against the A's. Ryan made one start for the Tigers last season, throwing six shutout innings in a game against the Chicago White Sox. He moved to the bullpen for a few September outings, where he worked four scoreless appearances before allowing three runs to the Minnesota Twins in his final appearance of the season.
Ryan's 2015 numbers are not as impressive as Farmer's. He has an 0-5 record and 4.67 ERA in nine starts, and has tallied just 31 strikeouts to 17 walks. However, he has been very good about keeping the ball in the park, allowing just one home run this season. He has worked 54 innings in his nine outings, the fifth-highest total in the International League. He has increased his ground ball rate to 56.2 percent, his first professional season above the 50 percent plateau.
Ryan's sidearm delivery was always expected to give left-handed batters trouble, and Triple-A managers have done all they can to keep lefties away from him in 2015. Of the 226 batters he has faced this season, only 24 have been left-handed. He has allowed just four hits in those 24 at-bats, and has yet to walk a left-handed hitter this season. On the other hand, righties are hitting .295/.355/.393 against him, with 17 walks to just 24 strikeouts. The Oakland Athletics may be playing into Ryan's hands, though, as they are hitting just .212/.300/.280 against left-handed pitching this season.
The Tigers don't need perfection from Ryan and Farmer, just a few solid innings to keep the bullpen in decent shape. Both starters are walking into favorable matchups -- or as favorable as you can expect when Mike Trout is looming -- and the Tigers' bullpen has only had to work 4 1/3 innings in the first two games of their road trip.