Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes on the Bradfo Show podcast
just became a Godfather, earning the title for his cousin’s daughter. He also recently bought a house just down the road from JetBlue Park. And the Red Sox
reliever officially discovered his favorite two spots in his new hometown to grab a bite to eat.
“If you’re going to go out, Cracker Barrel is awesome,” Barnes said. “That new Twin Peaks place is a lot of fun.” (When questioned about the merits of the latter’s menu, he responded, “The wings are good. They’ve got some bacon strips in some brown sugar. It’s a heart attack in an appetizer.”)
But the real alteration in Barnes’ lifestyle is that he enters spring training as a relief pitcher for the first time. Why? In large part because he carries the skill-set so many bullpens are looking for these days — the righty throws hard.
Besides Joe Kelly, Barnes threw 97 mph or better more than any Red Sox pitcher in 2015 (22 times). And while he has no documented proof, his brother did once email him a tweet from a scout in Barnes’ first pro year suggesting he had hit 101 mph.
“It’s definitely pretty cool, whether or not I actually did it,” he admitted. “You can’t just dig down and get it. Going from 96 or 97 to 100, it’s hard.”
But the velocity is just a start for Barnes, as he found out in ’15.
Having just been introduced to relieving midway through last spring training, Barnes took his lumps for much of his stint in the major leagues. As he explained on the podcast, simply throwing hard wasn’t going to be the answer, with the righty totaling a 6.89 ERA and .338 batting average against through 23 appearances before being sent down.
But, after his promotion from Triple-A, Barnes came back in September to allow just one run on eight hits while striking out eight and walking three in nine games. And, just for good measure, he was also afforded one last reminder courtesy Alex Rodriguez, who turned around a 97 mph heater for a solo homer in Barnes’ second-to-last outing of the season.
Following the A-Rod homer, Barnes explained on the podcast that he sat in the dugout with teammate Rick Porcello, who helped guided the rookie through what he might have done right and wrong.
“Velocity helps, I’m not going to say it doesn’t. But if you’re throwing 97 down the middle of the plate these guys are going to hit it,” he said. “Ninety-six, 97, 98, if it’s not located, it’s going to get hit.
“September was a turning point, how I needed to go about being a reliever, how my stuff best played.”
Barnes will be competing for a spot in what already appears to be a fairly crowded Red Sox bullpen, with Craig Kimbrel, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Carson Smith, Robbie Ross Jr., Tommy Layne, and Roenis Elias all having proved themselves in the majors. Steven Wright (who is out of options) and Heath Hembree, also figure to be in the mix.
For now, however, Barnes is at least thinking like a member of the Red Sox bullpen.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if some of the attention sent the way to the highly-touted Yankees pen should be diverted to the Sox. “It’s always going to be a competition, especially when you talk about division rivals. … I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, too.”