What pitching in front of fans again meant for Red Sox prospect Durbin Feltman

Red Sox pitching prospect Durbin Feltman made his first appearance of the spring against the Orioles in Sarasota on Thursday afternoon.

Working in relief of fellow right-hander Tanner Houck, Feltman came on in the bottom half of the third inning with two outs to get and the bases loaded in what was at the time a one-run game in favor of Boston.

The 23-year-old managed to limit the damage, as he allowed just one inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly before getting Ramon Urias to ground out to second to retire the side.

For Feltman, who made his 2021 Grapefruit League debut in front of approximately 1,700 spectators at Ed Smith Stadium, it was his first time pitching with fans in the stands since August 2019.

“It was just good to be out there in front of fans,” Feltman told BloggingtheRedSox.com Thursday night. “It brings back the atmosphere of the game and I couldn’t be happier to have people in the stands no matter the capacity. It causes you to have to lock in more during the game, which I think in turn helps you perform better. I love it.”

One of 30-plus non-roster invitees currently at big-league camp for the Red Sox, Feltman should find his way into more games between now and the end of the month.

Boston selected the flame-throwing righty in the third-round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Texas Christian University. He proceeded to post a 1.93 ERA over 22 relief appearances and 23 1/3 innings pitched between three different levels (short-season Lowell, Class-A Greenville, High-A Salem) in his inaugural season as a pro.

Feltman’s first full professional campaign, however, was a different story. The young reliever struggled to the tune of a 5.26 ERA and 5.02 FIP in 43 appearances and 51 1/3 innings of work out of the bullpen for Double-A Portland in 2019.

The inconsistencies Feltman displayed with the Sea Dogs in ’19 likely worked against him when the Red Sox were deciding who to include in their 60-man player pool the following summer after the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

From the middle of July through the end of September, they had the opportunity to invite Feltman to their alternate training site in Pawtucket, but did not take it.

That, in turn, motivated the Texas native as he made preparations to participate in the team’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

“I came in there with a chip on my shoulder and was like ‘Hey, this is what you missed out on at the alternate site,’” Feltman said back in December. “Hopefully I showed enough, I felt like I did. And I’m carrying that into 2021 as well.”

Feltman did indeed show enough at instructs this past fall to get an invite to major-league camp this spring after not receiving one a year ago.

The 6-foot, 208 pounder is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 30 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He is projected to begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester after the start of the Triple-A season was recently pushed back to May.

2021 could prove to be a pivotal year for Feltman simply because he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December. The Red Sox would need to add the former Horned Frog to their 40-man roster before November 20 in order to prevent that from happening.

“Obviously, I don’t want to have to go through the Rule 5 Draft,” he said. “Because if you’ve been in the big-leagues you’re not getting Rule 5 drafted.”

With that thought in mind, it would appear that Feltman, who turns 24 next month, is shooting to make his major-league debut — or at the very least be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster — at some point this season. He has plenty of time to prove that he belongs.

(Picture of Durbin Feltman: Zachary Roy/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Matt Barnes on challenges 2021 season could present: ‘Guys know exactly what to expect. That adjustment period of a pandemic is over’

It goes without saying that the 2020 Major League Baseball was unlike any in the sport’s history on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

Limited to just 60 regular season games with no fans in the stands and plenty of health and safety protocols, players opting out, outbreak scares, and a postseason bubble, the 2020 season being completed was no sure thing.

The season did end on schedule, however, and nearly six months later, players are once again preparing to embark on another campaign that will surely be affected by the pandemic one way or the other.

This time around, though, the players at least have some familiarity with the coronavirus and the protocols it has created working in their favor. That was not the case at all last summer.

“I think one of the hard things about last year was there was so much uncertainty with the pandemic,” Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes told WEEI’s Will Flemming during the team’s live Truck Day stream earlier Monday afternoon. “Going into the season this year, guys know exactly what to expect. That adjustment period of a pandemic is over. Guys are anxious. Guys are excited.”

The Red Sox are slated to begin spring training next week, with pitchers and catchers reporting to the JetBlue Park complex on February 17 and full squad workouts starting on February.

Among the players the 30-year-old Barnes has seen so far are Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Darwinzon Hernandez, Martin Perez, and Nick Pivetta.

Boston’s first Grapefruit League game will come against the Pirates in Fort Myers on February 27. Fans will be allowed to attend games at JetBlue, but the ballpark will only be operating at 24% capacity to allow for proper social distancing measures.

Even with those limits in mind, having fans in the stands should serve as a dose of normalcy for players such as Barnes, who experienced the entirety of the 2020 season in empty ballparks — including Fenway Park — since the Red Sox did not make it to the postseason.

“Fenway’s a special place to play, it really is,” said Barnes. “From just getting to go out to Fenway Park, where so many greats have had the opportunity to play and win world championships… When you see it empty, it’s just different. It’s just not the same. One of the things that gives us an edge at home is our fans and their ability to be loud and make it an intimidating place to play for opposing teams. I’m hoping that we can get as many fans as we can safely this year. I don’t know what the plan is for that, but the fans are definitely missed. It’s not the same playing at Fenway without them.”

While the veteran right-hander may not know what the plan is for having fans in the stands at Fenway in 2021, Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy shed some light on that topic during a virtual town hall event last week.

“We’d love to host fans if the health and safety experts up here and the government officials say it’s okay,” Kennedy told NESN’s Tom Caron this past Thursday. “We have a plan to host fans in a socially distanced environment with all sorts of requirements for masks and hand sanitizing, things like that. We’ve seen around the country, it works, at different venues. We’re hoping to have that but we have not engaged with the state of Massachusetts or the city of Boston… It’s our sincere hope to have fans back at Fenway as early as Opening Day. We’re cautiously optimistic, but again, that is not our decision.”

That decision, as it turns out, is up to the medical community, health experts, and local city and state officials, Kennedy said.

(Picture of Matt Barnes: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)