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May 10, 2013
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Friday night rolls around, you know just where to find Buck Farmer.
As the No. 1 starter for Georgia Tech, he pitches the first game of every three-game series against an ACC opponent, almost always against the other team’s ace. It’s a matchup he relishes.
“It’s real fun going out there to battle against their best pitcher on Friday night,” Farmer said. “Hopefully I can keep going back and forth with him and give my offense a chance to start hitting the baseball. Once you get some runs across it gets a lot more comfortable. It takes the pressure off.”
His assignment this Friday is formidable. The Jackets open a series at home against North Carolina, ranked No. 1 in the country in two polls and No. 2 in two others. The Tar Heels have a 43-4 record and a team batting average of .318. Farmer’s pitching counterpart will be Kent Emanuel, who is 9-1 with a 1.71 ERA.
Despite the daunting assignment, there’s no one else coach Danny Hall would rather have in this situation than Farmer. He’s 2-0 in his career against UNC, giving up just two runs in 15 innings.
“He’s the leader,” Hall said. “Obviously with his pitching, he sets the tone just about every Friday night with his performance that gives us a chance to win. I think our team feeds off his emotion, his commitment, his pride and everything else he has to be a winner.”
This is an important series for Georgia Tech, which has lost five of its last six ACC games and nine of its last 12 overall. The Jackets are now 30-19, 12-12 in the Coastal Division.
Farmer was part the slump, too. In his last two ACC outings, against Clemson and NC State, he was tagged for 19 hits and 15 runs (11 earned) in 11.1 innings.
But he seemed to right himself in a nonconference game against Coastal Carolina last week, pitching eight shutout innings while allowing five hits and striking out nine. Overall, he’s 8-3 with a 2.27 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. For his career, he has won 32 games against just 11 losses.
The senior right-hander could have been pitching in the minor leagues this spring because he was chosen in the 15th round last June by Milwaukee. A drafted player can sign for what he’s offered and begin his pro career right away. The sooner he gets started, the thinking goes, the faster he can arrive in the big leagues.
The alternative is for the player to turn down the chance, return to school for his senior season and try to improve his draft stock. That’s the route Farmer took, after talking things over with his family, and he said he has no regrets.
“It was one of those things that I didn’t get taken in the round I would have liked to,” Farmer said. “And you just can’t beat an education. At some point my baseball career is going to end and I would like to have school to fall back on. I’m one year closer to getting my degree.
“I wanted to play one more season under coach Hall, too. I also thought we had the potential to go a long way in the NCAA Tournament with the starters that we returned.”
Hall said Farmer told him before the draft that he wanted a certain amount of money and if he didn’t get it, he would be fine with coming back for his senior season.
“It was important to him that he get close to his degree because nobody in his family has a college degree,” Hall said. “He wanted to make sure I still had scholarship money for him (but) that was never an issue. I’ll find scholarship money for Buck Farmer any day of the week.
“I know he’s going to get drafted higher (this year) and I think at the end of the day he’s going to get the money that he wanted last year. And I also think that he will be pitching in the big leagues in the near future.”
Farmer has always been an important cog in Tech’s pitching staff. As a freshman he went 5-1, mostly pitching out of the bullpen. He became a starter as a sophomore and compiled a record of 11-3. He followed that with an 8-4 record last season.
Farmer was a fastball and changeup pitcher in high school and he has refined those pitches and added an effective slider. Hall said the fastball and changeup are “plus pitches” and the slider has become a nice complement. The fact that he can throw all three for strikes in any count makes him difficult to hit.
“Last year the changeup was my bread and butter,” Farmer said. “I really worked on throwing a slider that I can get in there for a strikeout. The slider has become a big asset for me, my changeup has always been good for me and this year my fastball is the best it has ever been. I’m real happy with the results I’ve gotten.”
In addition to his repertoire, the 6-foot-4 Farmer worked hard on getting in better shape. Hall said he was a little heavy when he came to Georgia Tech and was pushing 240 pounds last season.
“He probably lost 20 pounds,” Hall said. “I was a little worried that he might lose a little velocity on his fastball but it has just made it even better. He’s got the whole package now. He has always had a pretty good arm but now he’s got stuff, he can pitch and he knows how to take care of himself. He gives himself a chance to be as good as he can be.”
Last season Georgia Tech had a memorable run in May, qualifying for the ACC Tournament on the last day of the regular season. The Jackets entered the tournament as the No. 8 seed, then stormed through and won it.
“I can’t explain it,” Farmer said. “It was extraordinary, probably the most fun I’ve had in my college baseball career.”
Farmer hopes his team will still be playing when this year’s draft is held in early June. That would mean the Jackets have made a deep run in the NCAA playoffs and have a shot to qualify for the College World Series.
Regardless of when his college career ends, Farmer will have developed into a bona fide major league prospect.
“I guess I’ve become more mature as a pitcher throughout my career here,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to benefit me in the long run, having four years of college baseball.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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