Red Sox Notes: Chris Sale, Matt Barnes Manage In Return From COVID IL

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September 17, 2021

The Red Sox pitching staff was hit hard during Boston’s COVID-19 outbreak, but with some improvisation in the bullpen (especially in the closer role) and some guest appearances from Triple-A Worcester, the group largely managed to make it through.

On Friday, the Red Sox were on the other side of things. Ace Chris Sale and closer Matt Barnes returned from the COVID-19 related injured list after both had tested positive for the virus, and there were no signs of rust on either as Boston came away with a 7-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.

Sale lasted five innings en route to his fourth win of the season. He gave up one run — a solo homer — on just two hits. While he only struck out one hitter, he clearly had the Orioles offense puzzled.

“It’s just kind of how the game played out,” Sale said in a postgame video press conference, referring to Baltimore’s ability to make contact Friday. “My fastball wasn’t really jumping out of my hand tonight. I had to just rely on my secondary pitches — my slider, my changeup … I was leaning on my defense to make some plays and doing that. I just think it was kind of how the game played out.”

Sale came back to the bigs fresh off of his time on the injured list, but Barnes got some work in via a pair of rehab starts — one in Double-A Portland and one in Triple-A Worcester.

On Friday, Barnes was part of an on-fire bullpen that held the Orioles through the final four innings. In the eighth inning, he walked the first batter he faced but came back to get the final outs on strikes.

“I didn’t throw as well as I would’ve liked, but hey. Zeroes are zeroes,” Barnes said in a postgame video press conference. “Super excited about the fact that I was able to make in-game adjustments. Finished the inning a lot stronger than I started it. It’s awesome. It’s awesome to get back out there. We’ll keep working, keep moving forward. Team got a win tonight so that’s awesome.”

Garrett Whitlock, Hirokazu Sawamura and Martín Pérez joined Barnes in combining for the final four innings of work and allowed two hits in that span.

While Barnes was sidelined, the Red Sox used a closer-by-committee approach, largely led by Whitlock and Adam Ottavino, and fared pretty well. Naturally, that left some questions about how they would use a struggling Barnes moving forward.

Those questions really weren’t answered Friday, as Barnes came into a blowout game for the eighth inning. But with a tight Wild Card chase ongoing, it’s not about assigning roles right now — it’s about doing what gets the win. And strong (enough) returns from Sale and Barnes helped get it done.

Here are other notes from Friday’s Red Sox-Orioles game:

— Sale revealed postgame that he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and said he was asymptomatic both times he had the virus. His first positive test was in January as he continued to rehab from Tommy John surgery.

— Wondering why those Boston Marathon-inspired jerseys are back? The players requested the threads for the weekend series, which kicks off the final homestand of the 2021 season.

— Alex Cora revealed before the game that the Red Sox would move forward with a four-man rotation, consisting of Sale, Nick Pivetta, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez. Tanner Houck, the odd man out, has been demoted to the bullpen.

— Jarren Duran was finally activated from the COVID-19 related injured list, two weeks after he was taken out of action because of illness. He later tested positive. Duran on Friday led off and worked as the WooSox’s designated hitter against the Syracuse Mets.

— The Red Sox-Orioles series continues at 1:10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale
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