Pitchers and catchers are just days away, from reporting to spring training, and the Boston Red Sox seemingly have yet to finalize their plans for the bullpen in 2019.
The closer role remains a question mark as Craig Kimbrel sits on the open market, but the Sox seem prepared to head into spring training considering in-house options for the ninth inning.
One of the frontrunners to take the role over is last year’s eighth-inning man, Matt Barnes.
The 28-year-old right hander went 6-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 62 games last season. He struck out 96 batters in 61 2/3 innings and surrendered just one run in 8 2/3 postseason innings.
In an interview with The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Barnes said he hasn’t been told what his role is going to be this season, but that he is ready for anything. He also noted that spending time with Kimbrel, who he called “the best reliever in the game,” helped prepare him to take over the ninth if the Sox turn his way.
“The first time I ever played catch with him was after we acquired him,” Barnes said. “We were in Montreal for exhibition games, and watching him play catch, he was so meticulous and knew everything he was doing. If something was a little bit off, he was all over it and working on correcting it.
“And I had always been lackadaisical while playing catch, because I always took it as a chance to get loose and nothing else” Barnes added. “But the concentration he put into playing catch was so mind-boggling to me because we’re talking about the greatest closer in the game.
“To watch him be so meticulous, I felt like a fool for not paying more attention to it. If he’s the best in the game and he’s doing this, then why am I not doing that? Because if that is what I aspire to be, I need to do that. That’s a snippet of how he operates.”
Barnes was among a number of Red Sox pitchers that reported early to Fort Myers, Fla., for preseason workouts, so it appears the righty is serious about contending for the ninth-inning job. Whomever the Sox pick to close games has big shoes to fill if Kimbrel doesn’t return, however, as he posted 108 saves with a 2.44 ERA in three seasons with Boston.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images