Matt Barnes

Depth watch: Why Red Sox are trying out Matt Barnes in bullpen; backup starters power rankings

Rob Bradford
March 18, 2015 - 6:34 am
Categories: 

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The initial reaction to John Farrell's subtle suggestion that Matt Barnes would be working as a reliever going forward was that it might be a move executed in part because of Koji Uehara's hamstring injury. (He remains day-to-day, according to Farrell.) Not necessarily. The primary impetus for Barnes once again living the life as a reliever is because the Red Sox are searching for some velocity out of their 'pen. It was one of the reasons Alexi Ogando was prioritized over someone like Burke Badenhop in the offseason, and is a pretty good explanation for drawing back on the UConn product's work as a starter. Brandon Workman could have been that guy, but he hasn't rediscovered the velocity of 2013. Farrell talked the other day about the change in offense approach due to powerful bullpen arms, with lineups not necessarily wanting to drive fading starters out of the game because of the heat waiting for them out of the 'pen. Before the addition of Barnes, that sort of dynamic seemed somewhat lacking out of the Red Sox relievers. According to Fangraphs.com, the Red Sox relief pitchers were dead last in average velocity, clocking in (for fastballs) at 91.4 mph. Another less pressing concern for the Red Sox is the ability of Barnes to pitch more than one inning. Right now it appears as though Tommy Layne is going to make this team, leaving him, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica and Ogando as more-times-than-not one-inning guys. Anthony Varvaro and Craig Breslow have the capability to extend themselves, with Varvaro going beyond one inning six times last season, and Breslow doing it on 10 occasions. With the wake-up call that Joe Kelly's sore biceps gave the Red Sox earlier this week -- (they won't know if he will make his start Sunday until throwing off a mound Thursday) -- it's also probably a good time to see who would be first to fill in if rotation spots did start opening up. First up would be Steven Wright, who not only offers a more veteran presence, but continues to impress as much as anybody. Right now, Brian Johnson would seem to get the edge over Eduardo Rodriguez for getting a crack at the big leagues. While Johnson isn't on the 40-man roster, he has impressed the Red Sox with his overall game presence and late-moving stuff. The lefty not only works extremely quick, but still doesn't seem to let the game speed up on him. Rodriguez will most likely ultimately be the highest upside guy, but there is still some refinement to be done. Henry Owens continues to impress, particularly with a curveball that has routinely frozen major league hitters. But there is a feeling he also could use a continued dose of Triple-A before taking the next step.