SEATTLE -- When it came to the biggest surprises for 2013, one of the Mariners' best was Danny Farquhar.
At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Farquhar isn't physically imposing on the mound. But the hard-throwing right-hander made an impression on the Mariners -- and opposing American League clubs -- after taking over as Seattle's closer for the final two months of the season.
There wasn't much to foreshadow Farquhar's rapid rise to the closing role. The 26-year-old was acquired from the Yankees in the 2012 midseason trade of Ichiro Suzuki along with right-hander D.J. Mitchell, who has since been released. And while he was brought to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, scant attention was paid to a Minor Leaguer who went from the Blue Jays to the A's to the Yankees and finally the Mariners in the previous 12 months.
Even when Farquhar earned his first promotion to the Mariners in mid-May, his numbers weren't exactly eye-opening out of the gate, as he was lugging a 7.61 ERA after his first 13 appearances.
But beneath that ugly ERA, Farquhar was striking out a lot of batters, throwing nasty stuff and developing increased confidence in a curveball that helped keep hitters from loading up on his mid-90s fastball.
In late July, about the time closer Tom Wilhelmsen started to come unglued, Farquhar began asserting himself. After the newcomer posted 9 1/3 scoreless innings with just two hits, four walks and 15 strikeouts over his next five appearances, the Mariners found themselves looking for a ninth-inning man after Wilhelmsen came apart once more in a tough loss at Fenway Park.
Acting manager Robby Thompson, filling in at the time after Eric Wedge's stroke, said he'd replace Wilhelmsen with something of a closer-by-committee approach, finding the best matchups for the right situations as they arose.
But a funny thing happened after Farquhar was called upon to close out the next opportunity in Baltimore. The former 10th-round Draft pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette proceeded to pitch impeccably in five straight save opportunities and by the time he hit even a little rough water for the first time, the job was clearly his to lose.
He never lost it the rest of the season, finishing with 16 saves, tied for the third most in the Majors behind only Greg Holland of the Royals (19) and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves (18) while he was the closer from Aug. 3 to the end of the season.
While Farquhar's overall numbers were 0-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 46 appearances, his ERA was an eye-popping 1.69 over his final 29 outings. And for the season, his 12.77 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth among all AL relievers.
It all adds up to a far different feeling now for a pitcher whose only previous big league experience was three games with the Blue Jays in 2011, when he gave up four hits and three earned runs in two innings of work.
"Absolutely," Farquhar said. "I'm way more confident, way more comfortable. That's not really a good word, but I am more comfortable in this situation. I remember when I first came up this year, pitching in Cleveland, it was like the big leagues were on this huge pedestal.
"I still want to look at it and not take things for granted, because baseball is such a humbling game, but you can't help that you're just more comfortable in situations. You do it for four or four and a half months, you just get more comfortable."
This offseason will be far different, as well. A year ago at this time, Farquhar was in Venezuela pitching for Lara, looking to gain experience and prove something to a Mariners team that had just acquired him. But his plans this winter are far more domestic -- renovating his house in Florida, doing some tailgating at Louisiana-Lafayette football games, spending time with his pregnant sister, heading to Gainesville, Fla., to hang out at some point with Mariners teammate Mike Zunino.
"The Mariners didn't want me to go to winter ball," Farquhar said. "The team down there wanted me to go back, my wife wanted to go back. She loved it down there. They treated us very well. But it was time to give my arm a break and recuperate and just be ready for next year."
Farquhar grew up in Florida, but spent considerable time as a youth in Venezuela, where his mother grew up and still ran a study abroad program for students until about 10 years ago. So he speaks fluent Spanish and stepped in as a translator for teammate Kendrys Morales on the road when reporters needed help a couple times this past season.
But it is Farquhar's versatility on the mound that will be even more critical going forward, and the Mariners certainly figure to have him in their 2014 plans, whether as closer or a set-up man now that he's shown what he's capable of doing when given the chance.