Red Sox manager John Farrell explains using Matt Barnes in 8th inning
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell’s decision to trust Matt Barnes in a key situation proved costly. What other choices did he have?
A manager won’t always be able to pull the right strings. Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell’s game plan backfired Monday night against the Cleveland Indians, but at least he had an explanation for his decisions. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with his logic.
Farrell called on Matt Barnes to begin the eighth inning with the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead. He made this decision knowing full well that Barnes has been a disaster on the road. While he has been lights out at Fenway Park this season, Barnes owns a 5.53 ERA on the road and has walked nearly as many batters (18) as he has struck out (25).
The splits have been baffling. It’s gotten to the point where Barnes should no longer be trusted in high leverage situations on the road. Boston has other options they can turn to in the setup role. Or at least they normally do. That wasn’t the case Monday night, according to Farrell.
The manager explained to reporters after the game that his options were limited due to the high stress innings put on the bullpen in the weekend series against the New York Yankees.
"“”Addison Reed was not available tonight, and I was trying to stay away from Workman as well, given the workload the previous series, the stress to the pitches that they threw in the New York series, so we went to Barnes in the eighth,” Farrell said, via WEEI’s John Tomase. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”"
Reed was acquired to be the primary option in this situation. After a rocky transition period to begin his tenure in Boston, he’s settled down to toss 4 1/3 scoreless innings over his last four appearances. He also threw 42 pitches over two appearances in New York last weekend, so if Farrell wanted to stay away from him it’s understandable.
With Reed unavailable, Farrell reluctantly turned to Barnes. The right-hander began the inning by walking Francisco Lindor, followed by a single by Austin Jackson. Farrell had then seen enough. He gave Barnes the hook and called in Heath Hembree.
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While Hembree ultimately gave up the hit that drove in the tying run, the base hit he allowed to Edwin Encarnacion would have been harmless without runners on base. Would he have been the better option to begin the inning?
Lindor is 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his career against Hembree, so you had to like his chances against Cleveland’s star shortstop. On the other hand, Jackson is 1-for-1 with a walk against him. These are small sample sizes, yet the data we have provides little evidence that Hembree would have had better results. He hasn’t been as disastrous on the road as Barnes, but he hasn’t been good either. Hembree has posted a 4.30 ERA on the road and right-handed batters are hitting .280 against him overall. Anyone seems better than Barnes in a key spot on the road, but it’s not as if we’d have felt overly confident in Hembree.
Brandon Workman would have been the ideal solution in that spot. Yes, Farrell indicated he wanted to stay away from him, yet he ended up using him in the ninth anyway. Workman gave up the winning run, although the loss can’t entirely be pinned on him. Catcher Roberto Perez sacrificed to get the runner over to third base, only for Brandon Guyer to score on a throwing error by Brock Holt to end the game. Perhaps Cleveland would have scored without the error given they would have a runner at third with only one out. The blame would then stick with Workman for allowing the leadoff double to Guyer. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that Workman has been excellent since rejoining the team in mid-July. The right-hander has posted a 0.88 ERA over his last 20 1/3 innings. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in August and has been as steady as they come in the Red Sox bullpen.
Workman wasn’t able to extend the game to extra-innings and there’s no guarantee that he would have kept the lead if he was used in the eighth inning instead. Every decision seems clearer in retrospect. There may not have been a right move for Farrell to make in this case.
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There was a wrong move though, which was using Barnes on the road with the game on the line. The takeaway from this loss is that Farrell needs to stop trusting Barnes in these situations. If the game was at Fenway, sure. Give Barnes the eighth. Not in Cleveland, not against this dangerous Indians lineup. Not until he proves he’s straightened out whatever issues have robbed him of his control when he takes the mound in an opponent’s ballpark.