(WTNH)–Former UConn and Bethel High School star Matt Barnes is making a serious run at securing a spot in the Boston Red Sox bullpen this season.
Barnes worked exclusively as a starter in his first three seasons in the minors since leaving UConn, but now he’s showing serious promise this spring as a relief pitcher for Boston. The former first-round draft pick made his pro debuted with the Red Sox last season, appearing in five games and pitching nine total innings and finished with a 4.00 ERA.
But now, Barnes will be looking to make the opening day roster, instead of working as a September call-up.
The Boston pitching staff has several question marks heading into the season. Injuries to pitchers Koji Uehera and Joe Kelly could open up a spot for Barnes.
According to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com, Barnes is competing with lefties Robbie Ross, Tommy Layne, and Craig Breslow, as well as fellow RHP Brandon Workman for the final few spots in the Bo-Sox opening day roster.
According to the WEEI.com blog, the Red Sox still view Barnes as a starter long-term. But with his fastball touching 97 mph this spring, Red Sox manager John Farrell has opened his mind up to adding Barnes to the bullpen to give Boston an additional heat-thrower in the late innings.
In seven games for Boston this spring, Barnes has a 5.25 ERA in 12 innings pitched, with 16 strikeouts and only three walks. He has not allowed a home run. Although his earned-run-average is higher than he had likely hoped, he is still making an impression with his velocity and ability to strike batters out.
“Sometimes you look for silver linings in an otherwise frustrating year,” Farrell told WEEI.com. “And talking with Matt Barnes, he has a better understanding of who he is as a pitcher, what’s required at the major league level and the constant focus and concentration needed.”
After graduating from Bethel High School, Barnes is remembered for his phenomenal 2011 season at UConn where he won Big East pitcher of the year. He went 11-5 with a 1.93 ERA with 117 strikeouts that season, eventually going 19th overall in the MLB draft to Boston.