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Barnes, Brasier remain candidates to close

@IanMBrowne
March 19, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- First, there was the laser-beam hit by Byron Buxton that went off the glove of shortstop Xander Bogaerts for an error. Two batters later, Jorge Polanco singled up the middle and brought in a run. Then, Nelson Cruz smoked an RBI double to right-center field. Red

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- First, there was the laser-beam hit by Byron Buxton that went off the glove of shortstop Xander Bogaerts for an error. Two batters later, Jorge Polanco singled up the middle and brought in a run. Then, Nelson Cruz smoked an RBI double to right-center field.

Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie couldn’t watch any more. He hurried to the mound and had a lengthy chat with reliever Matt Barnes.

The verdict? Barnes was tipping his pitches.

“He noticed it, he told me, and I was able to fix it right away,” said Barnes. “It doesn’t matter how good your stuff is. If they know it’s coming, it’s going to get hit.”

The reason it was so easy to diagnose? Because when Barnes has his best stuff, and the Red Sox felt he did in Monday’s Grapefruit League outing against the Twins, he shouldn’t be getting hit.

How did LeVangie diagnose the issue so quickly?

“First off, I thought too many good swings were taking place for a guy that was actually throwing really well,” LeVangie said. “I don’t think we’d seen that from Matt Barnes when he’s throwing good pitches and they’re having good swings. We had to have a little conversation.”

After that, Barnes could enjoy the rest of his outing. Backed with his best stuff of the spring, Barnes induced Eddie Rosario into a flyout to left and struck out Marwin Gonzalez.

“Stuff-wise, today was great,” said Barnes. “The swings that I got on pitches following the mound visit I thought were more in line with how I felt about my stuff.”

Though the results haven’t always been there this spring for Barnes, who has a 9.00 ERA in four Grapefruit League outings, the Red Sox are confident he will be a key cog in the bullpen.

“With Barnsey, I mean, the stuff is good,” said Boston manager Alex Cora. “The breaking ball is good. Velocity is actually higher than last year. He’s in a good place.”

Who will close?
Ten days from Opening Day, Cora still won’t drop any hints on who his closer will be, or if the club will even have a designated closer.

“We’ll see [on] March 28,” Cora said, noting the date the Red Sox open their season in Seattle. “We still have to make decisions as far as the bullpen, who we’re taking, where we’re going to go. So not yet.”

Barnes and Ryan Brasier continue to be the top candidates if Cora decides to have a set reliever pitch in the ninth. But organizational discussions are ongoing as to whether the best approach might be to choose relievers based on matchups in the late innings.

Under such a scenario, Barnes and/or Brasier could conceivably pitch in the seventh or eighth inning, if that’s when the other team has their best hitters up or a major rally in progress. One thing Cora didn’t seem preoccupied with at all was naming a closer any time soon.

“They’re getting ready. It really doesn’t matter. Honestly, I don’t think it matters,” Cora said. “Whatever we decide, they’re going to know. They’re going to know before you guys.”

Sale should open Fenway
As if Fenway Park won’t be electrified enough on April 9, when the Red Sox have their home opener and will collect their World Series rings, ace Chris Sale is projected to start against the Blue Jays that day.

Sale will start on Opening Day in Seattle, then make his second start in Oakland on April 2. The Red Sox plan on plugging in a sixth starter on April 7 at Arizona, which would leave Sale in line for the Fenway opener.

Trimming the roster
The Red Sox re-assigned 12 players to Minor League camp on Monday, a list that was highlighted by power-hitting prospect Bobby Dalbec, who made a strong impression in his first big league camp.

The others who were sent down: Catcher Oscar Hernandez; right-handed pitchers Zach Putnam, Erasmo Ramirez, Josh Smith, Ryan Weber and Domingo Tapia; infielders C.J. Chatham and Chad De La Guerra; and outfielders Bryce Brentz, Tate Matheny and Cole Sturgeon.

With these moves, the Red Sox now have 36 players in big league camp, including 33 players from the 40-man roster and three non-roster invitees.

Up next
Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez was scheduled to make his fifth start of Spring Training on Tuesday, at home against the Blue Jays, but the game was canceled because of an extended period of sustained rain in the forecast. Closing candidate Brasier was expected to get an inning, and lefty Bobby Poyner, in the mix for a roster spot, also was scheduled to pitch. The Red Sox have two remaining Grapefruit League games at Jet Blue Park this spring: Thursday against the Rays at 6:05 p.m. ET and Saturday against the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. Their next game is Wednesday at 6:05 p.m. against the Orioles in Sarasota. Rick Porcello is scheduled to start.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.