May 21, 2012
By Jon Cooper
There’s an air of reassurance and confidence that the ace brings to his baseball team every time he takes the mound.
Georgia Tech Baseball breathes deeply of that air every time Buck Farmer takes the hill.
Never mind that the Yellow Jackets have to face the second-ranked team in the country, Florida State, after coming down to the final game of the season to qualify for the ACC Tournament.
Never mind that the Jackets have been hit by so many injuries that Head Coach Danny Hall has probably spent as much reading the New England Journal of Medicine this season as he has opposing scouting reports.
The Jackets and Hall can breathe easier knowing who’s getting the ball for them.
“My decision was real easy on who we were pitching,” said Hall, when asked about the starting pitchers for Wednesday morning’s opener, for which first pitch is scheduled for 11:00 a.m.
FSU, by the way, is going with junior right-hander Scott Sitz (pronounced sights), who had no record and two appearances in ACC play, with a 6.75 ERA (he’s 3-2 with a 3.81 ERA overall), not lefty Brandon Liebrandt, their Friday night starter all season.
Hall broke into a smile as he talked about his decision. That’s the comfort Farmer brings.
Of course Farmer (7-3, 3.36) also brings mid-to-high 90s heat on his fastball, a change-up, curveball and slider. He also brings success against Florida State, as he allowed one run (earned) and five hits over eight innings, against the `Noles on April 6th at Russ Chandler Stadium, striking out eight against three walks (the Jackets lost in 10, 2-1).
“It gives me a lot of confidence because I know what their hitters can and can’t do, where their holes are in their bats,” he said. “Just go out there and hopefully pitch like I did last time and give the team chance to win.”
Farmer is confident but also holds a healthy respect for the Seminoles, who feature five All-ACC selections — one more than Tech — including James Ramsey, the ACC Player of the Year, who led the conference in slugging (.674), on-base percentage (.520) and runs (67) and was second in batting (.380), and Jayce Boyd, who led the ACC in batting (.399) and hits (83) and was second in RBIs (54, Tech’s Jake Davies led the ACC with 58).
“They’re going to know what I’m like but also I’m going to know what they’re like, know their weaknesses, what they can and can’t hit,” said Farmer, the only pitcher in the ACC this season to throw a complete-game shutout. “They’re going to kind of know our pitching as far as our pitch-calling, what we’re going to call in certain situations. Other than that, I think it’s going to be a good match-up again between the pitchers and the hitters.”
The postseason is a whole new season, where a hot pitcher can make all the difference. Georgia Tech believes Farmer, one of Tech’s two All-ACC First-Teamers (the other is outfielder Brandon Thomas, who is three games back from a hamstring injury) can be the guy that makes such a difference.
“We’re extremely confident,” said right fielder Daniel Palka, a Second-Team All-ACC selection along with Davies. “Buck did really well against them the first time. Anytime Buck’s pitching we feel really good about it.”
Farmer has given the Yellow Jackets good reason to be confident in him. He’s pitched at least six innings in all but one of his 13 starts — his 6.69 innings per game is third in the conference — and he has as many strikeouts as hits allowed (65) in 67 2/3 innings of ACC play. His 9.99 strikeouts per nine innings rank fifth in the conference.
The Conyers, Ga., native has fully embraced the Friday night starter role and all it has entailed.
“I love being the ace because all the guys look at me as a leader by example or by performance,” he said. “It’s fun to go out there Friday night and try to get that win, try to get the series started off on the right foot. It’s been fun this year being the Friday night guy.”
He graduated into that role after going 11-3 last season, his first as a starter for Tech, when he held down the Sunday starter role.
Farmer was the star of last year’s NCAA Tournament, when he shut down Austin Peay, throwing a complete-game five-hitter. He’d like to repeat that history.
Seeing Florida State in the ACCs also will bring back history and a game he’d like to avenge. That was his 4-2 loss to the Seminoles in Tech’s 2011 Tournament finale.
Farmer is aware that run support could be an issue this weekend, but he believes in his teammates as much as they believe in him.
One thing is for sure: Tech won’t give up or get frustrated regardless of how close the game is. The Jackets closed the season playing 10 straight games decided by three-or-fewer runs (they were 5-5), six of those one-run games (they were 3-3).
FSU, meanwhile, had four close games over the final month and split a pair of one-run games. That abundance of close games could work to Tech’s advantage.
“I think it does. We’ve shown a lot of heart in coming back a lot this year, against Virginia, against Miami and against other teams earlier in the season,” Farmer said. “We know we can do it. We know that we can come from behind and win because we’ve done it a lot this season.”
“We’re still battling injuries and I think we’ve done well to this point to even make the ACC Tournament with the injuries that we’ve had,” he added. “We’ve overcome adversity well this season and we’re starting to get people back that are going to help us do well in this tournament.”
Of course, it will all start with the ace.