Matt Barnes said he wants to be the Red Sox' closer. Sunday he backed up his words with actions.
The reliever cruised through the three Braves batters he faced in his first Grapefruit League action, striking out two of them.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Barnes' outing was the velocity displayed out of the gate, with the righty hitting 98 mph on the Cool Today Park radar gun. He closed out the appearances by fanning highly-touted Ronald Acuna on three pitches.
"That was impressive," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "That was good. Velocity was up. Made some adjustments. It was a good one for Barnes. You don’t have to worry too much about him. Physically he’s always in shape. He’s just like Adam, we’re going to take our time. They know what they need to be ready for the start of the season. That was impressive. Velocity was up, a tick up from last year, which is a good sign."
Barnes is in competition for the closer's role with newly-acquired Adam Ottavino, who has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game.
"I saw something today," the reliever said. "If I’ve got eight or nine outings in spring training, let’s say nine outings in spring training, the first four outings honestly the results don’t matter to me at all. I can go out and give up however many runs and it doesn’t matter as long as the ball is coming out and I’m improving each outing, getting comfortable in mechanics. The last four or five outings, to me, because the season is right around the corner at that point, that’s when I want to start seeing some results, bad swings. Obviously if it comes earlier that’s awesome, but right now, to me, it’s about going out there, having a game-plan, trying to work on some stuff, trying to feel comfortable in mechanics, and obviously the most important thing is to get out of there healthy."
Barnes added, "I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think I’ll be judged on eight outings in spring training more than the last four or five years of work. Obviously if there was something drastic, if I was coming out throwing 88, that’s probably a topic for a different day. But if I come out showing the stuff that I’ve had my entire career, I don’t think the eight or nine outings in spring training in which I’m building up, looking to get ready for the season, are going to define the decision of what they want to do."
The Red Sox did end up on the losing end of their showdown with Atlanta, with former Sox Pablo Sandoval claiming the game-winning hit with a seventh-inning stand-up double off Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock.