Matt Barnes makes his case to become Red Sox closer

Rob Bradford
February 26, 2019 - 9:07 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The question was a straightforward one: Why could you be the closer for the Red Sox?

Matt Barnes' answer was just as direct.

"Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about the league and about myself and how to best utilize myself," Barnes said on the Bradfo Sho podcast. "I’ve continued to improve every year and there is definitely room to continue to improve. I feel comfortable in a late-inning role. I’ve done it quite a bit over the last few years. I have no idea what my role is going to be but if it is ninth inning I feel comfortable and confident in it."

And in case Barnes had any doubts, Alex Cora was going to help the reliever remember he had the resume to morph into the role.

Barnes explained the Red Sox manager recently handed him information that detailed exactly how the righty experienced the kind of high-leverage outings in 2018 that would prepare a pitcher for the closer role.

"He gave me a sheet the other day with both numbers ... Showing our numbers side by side," Barnes said, referencing last year's closer Craig Kimbrel. "It was Craig and me next to each other and it had the situations games we pitched. Whether it was down by down by three, down by two, down by one all the way up to up by three. It just showed how many times you pitched in those scenarios. I think it showed the OPS of all those appearances along those lines."

Barnes pitched 29 times in save situations during last year's regular season, holding opponents to .225 batting average and .693 OPS in such scenarios. According to Baseball-Reference, he pitched in 34 high-leverage situations prior to the postseason, maintaining a .205 batting average against.

Barnes, of course, supplied some of the most clutch relief outings in the playoffs, allowing just one earned run in 10 1/3 innings, garnering three holds and two wins.

But thanks to the presence of Kimbrel Barnes only pitched in the ninth inning six times in 2018, an inning he admits presents a new wave of challenges.

"Yes," he said when asked if he believed the ninth inning was different than the eight leading up to it. "I don’t know, it just is. It’s the last three outs in the game. I don’t know why it’s different. ... Maybe it’s because it’s the last chance."

Now Barnes is on the cusp of becoming the next Red Sox closer, a job, as he points out, that has been locked down by a pretty impressive list of relievers since 2013.

"I always thought I could be closer, but in Boston the line of closers when I first got up here it was Koji (Uehara) and Koji was a stud, and then when Koji left we signed Craig and Craig is a Hall of Famer if he never pitches again," Barnes said. "And Craig is still young, so pitching behind those guys and those guys have the ninth I don’t know how much you can actually say, ‘I’m going to be a closer here,’ because the two guys who had the ninth locked it down so I don’t know how much you can actually say I’m going to be a closer. I always thought I could be, or I that I the stuff to be a closer."


Related: Dombrowski: Red Sox won't be signing any more relievers