The Red Sox’ first road trip of the 2020 season has not been very kind to one Matt Barnes.
On Thursday, the right-hander needed 37 pitches to work out of a bases loaded jam he got himself into in the eighth inning of an eventual 4-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field.
On Sunday, Barnes was not so fortunate, as he entered the eighth inning of a game his side had a 7-6 lead in. By the time he was done though, the 30-year-old hurler had seen that one-run lead turn into a two-run deficit. The main reason behind that was after issuing a two-out walk to Mike Tauchman, the Yankees No. 9 hitter, Barnes allowed Tauchman to steal second before allowing D.J. LeMahieu to tie the game on an RBI single to center field.
Just a few moments later, Barnes fell behind in the count against the ever-dangerous Aaron Judge, who had already gone deep earlier that night.
After falling behind 2-0 to Judge, Barnes or the Red Sox bench could have opted to put the Yankees slugger on base intentionally to avoid the worst-case scenario. Instead, Barnes hung an 84 MPH curveball on the inner half of the plate, and Judge made him pay for the mistaken location by crushing a 468-foot two-run blast deep to left field.
That put the Yankees up 9-7, and it would result in Barnes getting hit with his first loss and blown save of the season later on. The UCONN product didn’t hold back on the self-criticism during his postgame media availability.
“Can’t walk (Tauchman). Can’t walk the nine-hole hitter,” Barnes said via a Zoom call late Sunday night. In regards to serving up that two-run blast to Judge, Barnes added: “Just a poor sequence of events there.”
Through his first four relief appearances of 2020, Barnes has surrendered four earned runs on five hits (two home runs), four walks, and four strikeouts over four innings pitched. Opponents are currently slashing .313/.476/.688 off the former first-round pick. That’s not going to cut it in the long-term.
“I’ve got some stuff to figure out for sure,” Barnes added Sunday. “Hasn’t been as clean as I would have liked through the first four innings.”
Per Statcast, Barnes has relied on his curveball exactly 61% of the time he has been on the mound this season. Although it’s still relatively early, it’s becoming more clear that Barnes’ curve in 2020 is not nearly as effective as it was in 2019. That being the case because last season, opponents slugged a measly .272 off the offspeed pitch. This season, opponents are slugging .721 off it.
That is just one of several examples showing the decline in Barnes’ curveball, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that the flame-throwing right-hander can bounce back from this slump as long as he figures out what he needs to figure out.
At the top of his game, Barnes is a quality set-up man, and just about every club could use one of those. Especially the Red Sox.