Seven games into the 2021 season, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has yet to name a closer for his team. But Matt Barnes is certainly making the case to take over that role given how he has performed out of the gate.
The right-hander made his third appearance of the year during the ninth inning of Thursday’s contest against the Orioles in Baltimore. In a nearly-immaculate effort, he needed all of 11 pitches (10 strikes) to punch out the O’s 5-6-7 hitters in order to lock down a 7-3 victory for his side.
“That was amazing, right? Just throwing all those strikes,” Cora said of Barnes’ effort on Thursday. “Velocity. I do believe this is his best fastball, at least of the last three years. The carry. It’s not only up in the zone. It’s actually through the zone and down. The breaking ball is good.”
Of the 11 pitches Barnes threw against Baltimore, seven were curveballs and four were four-seam fastballs. He sat at 94-96 mph with his four-seamer.
Following Thursday’s outing, the veteran reliever has yet to allow a run or hit while striking out nine and yielding just one walk through four innings of work thus far.
Going into Opening Day, Barnes was mired in a competition with fellow righty Adam Ottavino to determine who Boston’s closer would be.
Both hurlers had solid camps and performed well in Grapefruit League play, but Barnes being forced out of action for three days in late March due to a false positive COVID-19 made it appear as though Ottavino had a solid chance at landing the gig.
Instead, Cora has still yet to name a set closer, though the expectation seems to be that Barnes is the man for the job at the moment.
“We’re very happy with him,” said the Sox skipper. “He has matured a lot. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Barnes, who turns 31 in June, is slated to become a free agent for the first time this winter, so him enjoying a career year in 2021 would certainly be well-received.
The UCONN product has been in the Red Sox organization since 2011 and has stated before that he is open to signing a contract extension to remain with the team he began his professional career with.
(Picture of Matt Barnes: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)