Red Sox closer Matt Barnes’ confidence isn’t shaken by nightmare weekend

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 4: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the ninth inning at Comerica Park on August 4, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 4: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the ninth inning at Comerica Park on August 4, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox closer Matt Barnes is trusting his process

An opportunity for the Boston Red Sox to pull away from a division rival slipped away when Matt Barnes was tagged with a pair of losses against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nick Pivetta tossed an absolute gem in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader, limiting the powerful Blue Jays lineup to one hit over six shutout innings. Unfortunately, his sputtering offense offered zero run support. In the shortened doubleheader games, the seventh inning is treated as if it were the ninth, so despite Pivetta’s low pitch count and complete dominance, the Red Sox summoned their closer.

The pitching change would spark plenty of second-guessing when Marcus Semien blasted the first pitch he saw from Barnes over the left field fence for a walk-off home run.

The nightcap offered some semblance of redemption, although it wasn’t the most encouraging way to bounce back from the loss. Once again, Barnes entered a tie game in the seventh inning of a doubleheader. He quickly retired the first two batters and ended the inning with a rocket off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that fell about a foot short of the wall in deep center field. Barnes was dangerously close to being handed two losses in the same day but “earned” a win when the Red Sox scored in the top of the eighth.

Sunday’s finale in Toronto was the most gut-wrenching ending in a series filled with disaster. In a game the Red Sox led 7-2 at one point, the Blue Jays rallied late to turn the game into a nail-biter. Barnes entered with two outs in the eighth inning and a runner on first, tasked with completing a four-out save. Reese McGuire drew a walk after a nine-pitch battle, setting up George Springer to be the hero. Barnes gave up a three-run homer to his former UConn teammate to take the loss and turn an acceptable series split into a bitter disappointment.

A closer needs to have a short memory. It’s hard to imagine a weekend going any worse than the one Barnes had in Toronto but he needs to turn the page in order to find the right mindset to attack his next opportunity. To his credit, the Red Sox closer was not only accountable for his poor performance, he also insists that his confidence hasn’t been shaken.

According to MassLive’s Matt Vautour, Barnes explained to the media following Sunday’s loss that he has a plan that he’s followed all year that led to his emergence as an All-Star. As frustrating as these last few games have been, Barnes isn’t about to deviate from that plan.

"“I have a process of how I’ve gone about everything this entire year. I have a process that I trust whole-heartedly. Minus the home run to Semien yesterday and the homer I gave up to Springer today, it’s worked pretty good for 40 innings,” Barnes said. “Trusting that process whole-heartedly, I don’t have to ride highs and I don’t have to ride lows. When it works, that’s what I expect it to do. When it doesn’t, I still trust in that process and I’m going to continue to go out there. The proof is in the work.”"

His breakout season has been fueled by a more aggressive approach. Barnes had a tendency to nibble in the past, posting walk rates well above 5.00 BB/9 in each of the last two seasons. This year, he’s trusting his electric stuff and attacking the strike zone, dropping that walk rate to a far more acceptable 2.4 BB/9 while maintaining his elite strikeout rate.

Throwing the first pitch for a strike has been one of the keys to his success but it backfired against an aggressive Blue Jays lineup. Semien was ready to pounce on the first pitch, a fastball that caught too much of the plate.

Barnes aimed to avoid the same mistake to Springer, getting ahead early with a curveball. He explained after Sunday’s loss that he expected Springer to be sitting on the breaking ball on a 2-2 count. Barnes tried to zip a fastball by him but Springer was ready for it. While he admitted that the pitch leaked over the middle more than he intended, Barnes felt that he had the right approach for that situation. He simply didn’t execute it well enough.

The pair of homers led to a horrific end to the road trip but keep in mind that Barnes had only allowed four home runs in his previous 44 appearances. His 1.2 HR/9 is only slightly above his career rate and essentially every other metric is on pace for a career-best.

One bad weekend isn’t going to rattle Barnes into changing his approach, just as it isn’t going to lead to the Red Sox feeling any remorse about the contract extension they handed him this summer.

The Red Sox were counting on their closer to pull through in a pivotal series with a division rival that is now hot on their heels in the standings. He let his team down this time but one thing we can count on is that Barnes will be mentally prepared for his next opportunity.

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