Red Sox bullpen battle: Matt Barnes vs Alexi Ogando


While Red Sox fans have been debating what the opening day outfield should look like, there are actually a couple of other questions Boston has to answer. An interesting one has to do with the bullpen. Most of the spots are filled in the relief area for the Red Sox, however the thought is that another two spots are still up for grabs. John Farrell has discussed that Anthony Varvaro, Craig Breslow, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara are locks.

John Tomase,, brought up the name of Matt Barnes as a possible candidate on Friday. ( Boston drafted Barnes in 2011 at 24 years old, and he was always intended to be a starter by all accounts. In the last few years, Barnes has been solid but hasn’t exactly gotten over the hump in terms of everything clicking as a member of the Pawtucket starting staff. He had a record of 8-9 last season, with a 3.95 ERA in 22 starts (127.2 IP) and 103 strikeouts. Barnes nailed 142 batters by way of the K in 2013 between Portland and Pawtucket.

On Thursday, Matt Barnes came in to pitch the last two innings of a one-run loss to the Twins. He looked very comfortable giving up one hit, no runs and striking out three batters while displaying a high velocity fastball, reaching 97 mph at times, and a breaking ball that had opponents guessing. Tomase quotes Farrell as saying, “We have an understanding what the physical abilities are, and you try to get a sense of how are they managing the inning. When things are starting to go, when they’re getting challenged inside of an inning, are they handling it in a calm matter? Is their poise and composure remaining the same? Or are you seeing it play out a little bit?”

As far as his ability in a relief role goes, Michael Silverman of the Boston Heralds quotes John Farrell as saying, “The velocity in which he pitched (Thursday), I don’t think that shows up in a starting role. He’s always had swing-and-miss ability with the fastball. And I think (Thursday) his tightening up of the breaking ball gives him a tighter strike zone that he’s eventually going to face more consistently. Last year was more of a top-to-bottom type of breaking ball that might be more difficult to command for strikes, but those are two quick things that you start to see.” (

Of course, Barnes would have to have the desire to pitch out of the bullpen and relinquish the possibility of a starting role, at least for the near future. It appears that Barnes has done that, telling the media after Thursday’s game, “Everybody’s goal in this room is to play in the big leagues as long as they possibly can — obviously I want to be in the big leagues, but it’s whatever the team needs, and I’ll be flexible to that needs. It’s just a shorter appearance. You can kind of let it go completely for a couple of innings as opposed to trying to get to six or seven (innings). You can go with everything right off the bat — fastball, curveball, changeup — as opposed to trying to keep something for the beginning of the game.” Sounds like the right attitude to me.

So the question is, who is Barnes competing with for the last available relief roles? Tomase determined it probably comes down to the left-handed Robbie Ross and right Alexi Ogando. Considering that the Red Sox would most likely want to have another lefty in Ross available to them, you would have to think the competition is between Barnes and Ogando.

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Alexi Ogando’s story is a rather interesting one in that he began his career in the Oakland A’s organization as an outfield prospect with a high ceiling, even leading the Arizona League in homeruns at the age of 19 and drawing comparisons to Alex Rios, according to the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. (

When things started to slowly decline for the Dominican born Ogando at the plate, the Rangers pounced at the chance to bring him into their organization in the 2005 Rule 5 draft and turned him into a reliever. He had always had a huge arm in the outfield, so the transition wasn’t as strange as it may be for some position players. He’s had some success, but arm injuries have limited him his last two season for Texas, allowing the Red Sox to get him at the reasonable price of 1.5 million dollars plus incentives on the open market.

Ogando is similar to Barnes in that he has a 96/97 mph fastball that he has a ton of control over as well as a nice slider to balance things out. He’s had a good deal of success against right-handed batters allowing a very solid .220 batting average and a .626 OPS according to Pete Abraham. (

As Spring Training continues, this will be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on that could play a crucial role in the ultimate success of Boston’s bullpen in 2015. My guess is that Ogando’s experience should get him the roster spot come opening day, as Barnes continues to refine his approach to coming out of the bullpen in Pawtucket. John Farrell and company will certainly keep him in mind as the next man up, especially given Alexi Ogando’s injury history. Red Sox Nation will continue to watch to see how it shapes up as we get further into Spring Training.