Saturday, March 22, 2008


KYLE FARNSWORTH is the man New York Yankees fans love to hate. Signed to replace Tom Gordon as Mariano Rivera’s set-up man in 2006, Farnsworth has since been the subject of many a Bronx cheer.

Now it’s crunch time for the much-maligned relief pitcher as he enters the final season of a three-year, $17 million deal. Can he get the fans on his side or will he be moving on again next winter?

On paper, Farnsworth has all the attributes needed to pitch the eighth inning. Standing 6ft 4in tall and weighing in at around 235 pounds, the 31-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, looks every inch an athlete. And with a 100 mph fastball, the opposition batters should be quaking in their boots.

That’s what the Yankees were hoping for when they signed him as a free agent following a spell with the Atlanta Braves, where he had an earned run average of 1.98 in 26 appearances.

His ERA rose to 4.36 in 2006, when he gave up eight home runs. Last season was even worse, nine home runs increasing his average to 4.80.

Those statistics have no doubt contributed to the Yankees’ decision to keep the mercurial Joba Chamberlain in the Bullpen and delay his switch to starter. The simple truth is that you never quite know what you’re going to get from Farnsworth.

His inability to get ahead of the hitter early in the count all too often leads to him throwing a “meatball” right over the plate. And even with his velocity, the batter can catch up with it when he knows exactly what’s coming.

The signs in spring training have been slightly more encouraging. Farnsworth has allowed just two runs in seven innings for an ERA of 2.57. Perhaps new manager Joe Girardi, who caught for Farnsworth when they played together for the Chicago Cubs from 2000 to 2002, can get more out of him than Joe Torre managed to do.
Yanks' relief pitching looks thin
Yankees fans will certainly hope so. Even with the arrival of LaTroy Hawkins from Colorado, the relief pitching looks thin.

Farnsworth had an infamous fall-out with Jorge Posada during a game of July last year. Posada signalled for a slider. Farnsworth threw a fastball, landing a painful blow on the catcher’s wrist. That incident did little to improve his popularity with the fans.

“If you get booed, if you have a bad outing, it’s not fun,” he admits. “But it’s not the end of the world. I could be driving a garbage truck, waking up at 4am every day. I love playing the game and nobody can take that away from me.

“I have no regrets about coming here. I love it. Anyone who gets a big contract has to expect that people will have big expectations. I expect that out of myself. The numbers haven’t been the way I think they should be, but I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I have given my all every single day.”

Farnsworth’s body language hasn’t helped the situation. Shoulders slumped as he leaves the mound, it looks as though he’s ready to give the finger to dissenters among the crowd.

Well aware of his public persona, Farnsworth has even hired a marketing consultant to help him improve his image.

Ultimately, though, the only way he will win over the fans is by producing the goods in key situations towards the end of a game.

The next seven months will determine whether Farnsworth has what it takes to turn adversity into triumph – and help the Yankees achieve their first World Series win for eight years.

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