Right-hander Matt Barnes made his major league debut with three shutout innings on Tuesday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox.)

Why you should have cared about Tuesday's Red Sox game: Matt Barnes makes his mark

September 09, 2014 - 6:43 pm
(For the final month of the regular season, "Closing Time" will be called "Why You Should Have Cared," looking beyond the final score -- at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) -- for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) By and large, the process of auditioning pitchers for spots in the 2015 Red Sox rotation has been something less than dazzling. Joe Kelly and Rubby De La Rosa have shown flashes of being effective, with De La Rosa offering glimpses (not yet sustained) of an ability to dominate. Brandon Workman has struggled. Anthony Ranaudo has shown little ability to elicit swings and misses, and on Tuesday, the Orioles smashed his fastballs up in the strike zone, launching three homers to hand the 25-year-old a loss (by an eventual 4-1 count) on his birthday. Kelly profiles as a back-end starter. Workman and Ranaudo seem most likely to project either as No. 4 or 5 starters if they don't end up in the bullpen. But late in Tuesday's outing, the Red Sox got a tantalizing first glimpse at a pitcher with considerable upside when Matt Barnes took the hill in his big league debut. Barnes has arguably the best fastball in the system, a pitch that can miss bats even when in the strike zone. He sits comfortably in the mid-90s, and on Tuesday, he worked primarily off of a 94-96 mph fastball that he complemented with both a changeup and a curveball (the latter of which, notably, got the first swing-and-miss of his career). Pitchers like Ranaudo and Workman have considerable potential value to a rotation as pitchers who know how to compete and give their team a chance to win. But Barnes represents something different, his fastball giving him a chance to be either an impact starter or, in the eyes of some, a closer, with the view of his potential as a starter tied to a changeup that grades as solid average and a curveball that he's used to increasing effect this year. On Tuesday, he employed all three pitches in impressive fashion, throwing three shutout innings in which he permitted three hits, struck out two batters (Chris Davis on a fastball, Adam Jones on a changeup), worked out of a second-and-third, one-out jam by punching out Jones when needed and threw a whopping 30 of 38 pitches (79 percent) for strikes -- the highest strike percentage of any major league rookie in his debut (min. 30 pitches) since Jamie Vermilyea threw 24 of 30 pitches for strikes in his Blue Jays debut on April 22, 2007. In a run of relatively undistinguished performances by Red Sox call-ups, Barnes' outing stood out, a first opportunity to stand out from the pack of Red Sox prospects making the transition to the big league level. OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT TUESDAY'S GAME -- Xander Bogaerts continues to show signs of wrapping up a challenging rookie year on a positive note. He crushed a Chris Tillman fastball for a long homer into the Monster Seats in left-center for his 10th homer of the year, becoming the first Red Sox 21-year-old to reach the double digit homer plateau since Dwight Evans in 1973. With his 2-for-3 day (which also included a walk), his OPS is up to .654 -- its highest point since August 8. However, he did also offer an admission of his youth with a bad baserunning decision in the ninth, taking off for home after advancing from first to third on a double when a throw back to the infield from Nick Markakis dribbled away from the cutoff man. Bogaerts was cut down easily at the plate for the first out of the inning, and felt sufficiently dismayed by his mistake that he simply lay his head on the ground after getting thrown out. -- Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. He's reached base multiple times in all five games in which he's led off for the Sox. -- Ranaudo's vulnerability to big league lineups once again was on display. He pitched just 3 1/3 innings, with three of his six hits leaving the park en route to a four-run yield. While the three homers represented the most he's permitted in his five big league outings, he has now been taken deep eight times in 26 2/3 big league innings, and the absence of a swing-and-miss offering has resulted in more walks (12) than strikeouts (10). It's possible that Ranaudo is fatiguing in the face of a career-high workload of 164 2/3 innings, but he'll need to show either a consistent ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball or the ability to generate swings and misses with an offering in order to position himself to be a valuable big league starter.