Matt Barnes doesn’t feel limited by traditional closer mold

Nick Friar
April 10, 2019 - 3:43 pm

Chris Sale’s disappointing outing on Tuesday overshadowed the fact Alex Cora brought Matt Barnes, the Red Sox semi-closer, semi-super reliever, in the ninth inning despite it being a non-save situation. Under his watch, the Blue Jays added to their 6-5 after Barnes drilled Billy McKinney and gave up a double to Freddy Galvis.

The way Cora used Barnes was a rare occurrence when Craig Kimbrel was the team’s best reliever; though Cora has made it clear Barnes and Ryan Brasier’s usage won’t be limited by the old ways when high leverage relievers had set innings.

But when Barnes struggles in a situation like he did on Tuesday, it’s easy to think back to the fiascos Kimbrel experienced. He didn’t do well in anything other than a save situation.

However, prior to this season, closing was more foreign to Barnes than relieving while the Red Sox trailed. So he didn’t use Tuesday’s score as a crutch.

“Nah, you’re still trying to go out there and put up a zero,” he said. “One-run game is still one swing away, so still trying to go out and put up a zero.”

Additionally, Barnes doesn’t think the inning he pitches in will impact how he approaches hitters.

“We can score some runs with the best of them, so it’s all the same,” Barnes said. “Try to keep it where it is and either win the game on the man or give them the chance to win it at the plate.”

So he’s not Kimbrel, that’s clear. It seems he’s being treated more like Koji Uehara in 2013. Since that season, teams across Major League Baseball seem to be in constant search on a super reliever like Uehara, Andrew Miller or Josh Hader. But it’s a far more challenging position.

Dennis Eckersley didn’t sound like he would’ve been a fan of the role when he discussed it on NESN’s broadcast during Tuesday’s loss.

“This “no closer” situation puts relief pitchers like Matt Barnes in all different kinds of positions to come into a game,” the Hall of Fame pitcher said. “It’s tough, it really is. I’m telling you, you come in behind, you come in earlier, whenever they need something stopped. It’s a hard job. It’s a much harder job than being the closer.”

Barnes may have the mental fortitude to get past the challenge, unlike Kimbrel or even Eck. But having to get ready at any moment can wear on a pitcher’s arm. Two seasons after Miller did it he took a step back. Although he was much old, Red Sox fans know what happened with Uehara. Is it worth risking things with Barnes when you’re one arm away from having the previously accepted mold of two setup men and one reliever?