Starting 10 years in making for Farnsworth
Royals righty to have another shot after decade in the bullpen
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- All of the surprise that accompanied the Royals' declaration that they'd look at Kyle Farnsworth as a starting pitcher was no surprise to one guy: Farnsworth.
Actually, Farnsworth had started thinking about the possibility a year ago during the Royals' camp at the -- hey, what's in a name? -- Surprise training complex.
"At this time last year, I was just thinking to myself, 'I'd like to start again,'" Farnsworth said. "And then they came to me during the season, so we both thought of the idea."
It's been 10 years since Farnsworth started a game back in 2000 as a hard-firing 24-year-old right-hander with the Chicago Cubs.
"I'm real excited about it," Farnsworth said. "It's something I did all throughout the Minor Leagues and the first two years of my career. I had success in the bullpen, and I stayed there for a while, but this opportunity has come about, so I'd be more than willing to do it."
For Royals manager Trey Hillman and pitching coach Bob McClure, the idea bloomed last Sept. 9 when Farnsworth reeled off two perfect innings against Detroit with two strikeouts and four groundouts. They saw good action in Farnsworth's two-seam fastball.
"I was interested in getting outside of the box with it originally when we saw the life in the two-seamer," Hillman said. "But then it was after that two-inning outing that we saw the consistency and the life in how he utilized the two-seamer at the high velocity with that great sink. Then he'd throw the four-seamer to elevate. When you can do that with one pitch -- it's two different pitches but both fastballs -- and change the eye level of the hitter, that's when we went, 'Wow! That's kind of interesting.'"
Hillman told McClure the idea might be "far-fetched," but, at the time, they were looking at a rotation that had three arms shut down -- Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies. They had no starter in the Minors on the verge of breaking out. So why not look at Farnsworth along with another relief pitcher, Robinson Tejeda?
Tejeda already was being tested as a starter and trying Farnsworth in the future made sense, too.
"Physically, he's in great shape, he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his arm, and he showed us last year, at the end, that he could do some different things, and it might be something to look at," McClure said.
To make the possible conversion even more appealing, Farnsworth pulled a surprise. He showed off a new changeup after his arrival in camp.
"He pulled that thing out of his backpocket the day before yesterday, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again," Hillman said.
That little development is coming right along.
"It's more of a feel pitch," Farnsworth said. "I haven't really thrown it, but I've messed around with one, trying to find the right grip. I think that's the main thing with anybody throwing a changeup is you just have to find a comfortable grip, and I think I've finally found one."
Working as a reliever over the years for the Cubs, Tigers, Braves and Yankees, there really wasn't a need in Farnsworth's pitch arsenal for a changeup.
"Coming out of the bullpen, I've never really needed one," he said. "I had one when I first started a long time ago, but it wasn't very consistent. I didn't feel comfortable with it, but I feel comfortable with this one."
When Farnsworth signed in 1994 -- he was the Cubs' 47th-round Draft choice out of Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga. -- he broke in gently with 16 relief outings in Rookie ball. But after that in the Minors, he was strictly a starter and was called up to join the Cubs' rotation on April 29, 1999.
For the Cubs, he started 21 times in his 27 appearances and finished with a 5-9 record. In 2000, he started five games but faltered -- 1-3 with an 8.23 ERA -- and was reassigned to the bullpen.
"I really didn't have a third pitch -- just mainly my fastball, and my slider was so-so and my changeup was so-so. So that's probably the main reason I went to the bullpen. The second or third time around [the lineup], they kind of figured out what I was throwing."
Gee, if he'd have developed a changeup then, his entire career might have been different.
Now there's a possible change, although at this point, the rotation seems set with Zack Greinke, Luke Hochevar, Davies, Bannister and Meche. But things can happen and the Royals want to have alternatives. That's where Farnsworth might figure in.
"It's important that we build our whole inventory in case we run into a problem," Hillman said. "He's done it before. It's been a lot of years, but we don't have a starting inventory in our own system right now or somebody that's close to being ready."
If Farnsworth isn't needed for the rotation, he figures as a possible right-handed setup man or long reliever. But he's eager to take a flier as a starter.
"I definitely think it's something I can do -- not easily, but I think I'm up to the challenge," he said. "I'm going to take the opportunity and go with it. What's the worst thing that could happen -- go back to the bullpen?"
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.