When the Red Sox traded Brandon Workman to the Phillies on Aug. 21, Matt Barnes got the opportunity to take over for his longtime friend in the closer’s role.
Now that Barnes has gotten a taste of pitching the ninth inning, he hopes to stay in that role in 2021 -- his last season before free agency.
“Absolutely,” said Barnes. “Let’s do it. I’m all in.”
Barnes was an eighth-inning specialist for several years. What does he like about performing last call?
“I think one of the best things is when the game ends with you,” said Barnes. “It’s an awesome feeling when [Christian] Vázquez walks out or [Kevin] Plawecki walks out or whoever is catching, they walk out and the game ends with you. I think that’s a really cool interaction, a really cool feeling that you get, knowing that you’re the guy they want to lock down the last three outs of the game.”
Barnes has pitched in 11 games since he became the closer, notching seven saves in nine opportunities. Over that span, he has a 3.60 ERA with 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He has allowed one home run.
When the Red Sox drafted Barnes in 2011, he was a starter. He has been a mainstay in Boston’s bullpen for the last five seasons. And now his role has been elevated to the top spot among the relievers.
It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox give him the chance to do the job over a 162-game season.
“I have no doubt he can do it. He's got great stuff,” said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. “He's got two plus pitches he can throw at any time. I think that right away we saw some games where he got in trouble with being a little wild, but when he's throwing strikes and throwing the ball over the plate with those two pitches, he is really tough to hit and is as good as anybody.
“So, no question, he has the arsenal to do it. I think he's got the makeup to do it. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Before the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline, there was quite a bit of talk that Barnes would be traded. But nothing came to fruition, for which he was grateful.
“I can tell you that I wasn’t really paying attention to a lot of it until I woke up on Monday morning [of the Deadline] and I was like, well, and then you started counting down the hours,” Barnes said. “I’m ecstatic to still be here. I love playing for this organization. I’d love to continue to play here for a long time. So we’ll see what happens. I’m really happy to still be here.”
Houck’s next pitch? Against Yankees
After a stellar Major League debut on Tuesday night in which he fired five shutout innings against the Marlins, Tanner Houck -- Boston’s No. 10 prospect, as rated by MLB Pipeline -- is due to make his second start on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park against the Yankees.
Houck’s electric performance seemed to energize a Boston team that has been out of contention for several weeks.
“I thought Houck did awesome,” Red Sox righty Nathan Eovaldi said. “Came out there, and he looked real composed and attacked the zone real well. Got into a little trouble, but he was able to get himself out of it. It was an awesome debut.”
Said Barnes: “I was really impressed with Tanner Houck last night. I thought he threw the [heck] out of the ball. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
2021 Spring Training schedule
The Red Sox on Wednesday released their Spring Training schedule, and it had a familiar ring to it. The first game the team will play in 2021 will be a seven-inning affair against Northeastern in Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 26.
The first Grapefruit League game will be at home the following day against the Pirates. The Yankees make their first visit to JetBlue Park on March 3, and the rivals will face off again in Tampa, Fla., a week later. The Sox will close the exhibition season with two games against the Braves -- the first away and the second at home -- on March 29 and March 30.
The Red Sox open the 2021 regular season at Fenway Park on April 1 against the Orioles.
Hispanic Heritage Month
With MLB celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, the Red Sox will do some things to commemorate the occasion during the homestand that starts on Friday night against the Yankees.
The Red Sox, in partnership with the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, are expected to have some special cutouts behind home plate during the homestand.
The Red Sox will share some graphics on social media highlighting the careers of some of their best Latino players.