Farnsworth brings swagger to bullpen
New setup man an intimidating presence leading up to Soria
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Kyle Farnsworth is big and tough-looking and throws the ball like a bullet. Isn't he just the kind of pitcher who could scare batters to death?
"Sometimes," he said, laughing. "I've got to start doing a little bit more of it."
That would come in handy this year as Farnsworth slides into the Royals' bullpen, billed as the guy -- or one of them -- who'll deliver a pending victory to closer Joakim Soria.
"I'm going to do my best and get the ball to Soria," Farnsworth said. "I bring some veteran leadership and try to help the young guys out a little bit. I'll come in and do what I can do."
At 32, he joins his fifth Major League club on his lengthy stat sheet, and he's been in postseason play four times. He began as a starter with the Cubs in 1999 before turning to relieving in his six-year tour at Wrigleyville. He went to Detroit, then Atlanta, then to New York for 2 1/2 years with the Yankees and back to the Tigers for the final two months of 2008.
The Royals, having traded away right-handers Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez, needed some new firepower and gave free-agent Farnsworth a two-year, $9.25-million contract with a club option for 2011.
Naturally, around Kansas City, the immediate recollection of Farnsworth was in the notorious 2005 dustup at Detroit, a little scuffle set off when the Royals' Runelvys Hernandez beaned the Tigers' Carlos Guillen. Farnsworth made an end run around the scrum and body-slammed Royals pitcher Jeremy Affeldt to the turf.
Royals outfielder Shane Costa was right in the midst of the melee and grabbed Farnsworth as he was lifting Affeldt.
"I went down with him. I didn't really tackle him. I grabbed his back and then there were about 30 people on top of us," Costa said. "I couldn't move. I got up and my head was bleeding from the dirt."
Farnsworth dismissed the incident.
"It's just one of those things that happens in the heat of the moment," Farnsworth said. "No hard feelings at all".
Farnsworth had practice at this rasslin' stuff. In 2003 when he was with the Cubs, he grappled with Reds pitcher Paul Wilson in a fabled match at Cincinnati.
"That was the first," Farnsworth said. "That was a little bit more intense."
Before 2005 was over, the Tigers dealt Farnsworth to Atlanta for two pitchers (including current Royals' hurler Roman Colon) and he became the Braves' closer, getting nine saves with a 1.98 ERA.
"He had electric stuff and he was really, really successful," recalled Royals pitcher Kyle Davies, then with the Braves. "We didn't have a closer when we traded for him and he sealed down that job the last two months of the season and pretty much got us in the playoffs that year."
The next year, 2006, he signed as a free agent with the Yankees and had a bittersweet stay. He had some success and fond memories.
"It was definitely fun. I had a good time over there and I'm thankful for the opportunities they gave me. I got a chance to play in the Stadium, met a bunch of great guys and it was a great time," he said.
But sometimes the fans booed him unmercifully.
"They get on anybody if you don't go out and produce. That's what they want -- they want production," Farnsworth said. "You go out there and try to do your job -- at times I did, at times I didn't. They have the right to do it -- nothing against them. They just want to win so bad."
Farnsworth was traded back to the Tigers for catcher Pudge Rodriguez last July 30 but struggled and looked for a new team. He took the Royals' offer during the Winter Meetings.
"He throws hard, he comes after you, he's not going to back down against you," the Royals' David DeJesus said. "He's a competitor and that's the kind of guy you want on your team. He's a big dude, as you can see, so if he can come in and maybe get in the hitters' heads ... that's what we need him to do."
Royals newcomer Coco Crisp, while with Boston, saw Farnsworth during the Red Sox-Yankees wars.
"He has a live, heavy fastball that can kind of sneak up on you if you don't stay ready for it," Crisp said. "He has some other pitches. but if you focus on those, you're not going to catch up to that fastball. He has an intimidation factor about him on the mound as well, which makes it tough sometimes to get in the box against him."
Royals manager Trey Hillman said pitching coach Bob McClure is working with Farnsworth to improve his command which the pitcher concedes is "not like pinpoint control." But Farnsworth contends he's got a pretty good idea where the ball is going. Wherever it goes, it usually gets there in a hurry.
"I'm definitely not a finesse pitcher so I'm definitely going to come after 'em," he said.
Farnsworth did have a problem with home runs last year, giving up 15, the most in any season since he's become a reliever.
"It's just a matter of being able to locate that stuff down in the zone better than he has and more consistently than he was when he was giving up more home runs," Hillman said. "He has room for error with our ballpark."
Farnsworth has been watching the Royals from the other side for a while and he's noted some improvement.
"Starting pitching is where it all starts and last year it was night-and-day from what it had been," Farnsworth said. "We always looked forward to coming to Kansas City and whuppin' up on 'em, but now it's a different story."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.