The right-hander was tremendous Thursday night in the Boston Red Sox’s Grapefruit League opener against the Minnesota Twins, tossing two scoreless innings in which he struck out three and flashing velocity that served as an eye opener for manager John Farrell.
“I don’t have a whole lot of history with Matt Barnes, but that was a different guy than even what we saw in September,” Farrell told reporters Friday in Fort Myers. “Sometimes, you look for silver linings in an otherwise frustrating year, and talking with Matt Barnes, he has a better understanding of who he is as a pitcher, what’s required at the major league level and the constant focus and concentration needed. All those were talked openly by him.
“And he went out (Thursday) night and demonstrated some of the things he learned last year. Breaking balls much tighter. I’ve never seen that kind of velocity from him. He was a different guy last night.”
Barnes pitched the seventh and eighth innings of the Red Sox’s 9-8 loss. He surrendered a single to Chris Herrmann on the first pitch he threw but then settled down in a big way.
Barnes retired Mitch Garver, Eddie Rosario and Doug Bernier in order on five pitches following Herrmann’s single. Garver struck out looking. Rosario and Bernier both offered at the first pitch and went down rather easily.
Barnes returned for the eighth inning and struck out two more batters — giving him three punchouts for the contest — while throwing just seven pitches in the frame. It was an extremely efficient outing highlighted by excellent command and a fastball touching 97 mph.
“He’s always had swing-and-miss ability with the fastball,” Farrell said. “And I think (Thursday) night his tightening up of the breaking ball gives him a tighter strike zone that he’s eventually going to face more consistently. Last year was more of a top-to-bottom type of breaking ball that might be more difficult to command for strikes, but those are two quick things that you start to see.
“The velocity in which he pitched (Thursday) night, I don’t think that shows up in a starting role.”
Farrell recently identified Barnes as one of six pitchers in Boston’s “second tier” of starters. With the 24-year-old’s stuff playing up so drastically in a relief role, though, one can’t help but wonder if the Red Sox will consider him as a potential bullpen option at some point in the near future.
After all, the Red Sox currently don’t have anyone with Barnes’ hard-throwing prowess at the back end of their ‘pen.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images
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