Red Sox Reliever Matt Barnes Says He Has ‘Some Stuff to Figure Out’ After Tough Start to 2020 Season

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.

 

Red Sox Reliever Phillips Valdez Pitching Himself ‘Into Bigger Role,’ Ron Roenicke Says

One week into the 2020 season, Red Sox relievers own the 15th-best ERA (4.54), the 15th-best FIP (4.21), and the 20th-best fWAR (0.0) in baseball. Put simply, the Boston bullpen has been rather mediocre to begin things this year, which is understandable given the current state the starting rotation is in.

Despite that ‘mediocire’ notion, there have been a handful of Sox relievers who have stuck out in a positive way thus far, and one of them worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on Friday night. His name? Phillips Valdez.

Yes, the right-hander scattered three hits and struck out three batters in relief of Ryan Weber in Friday’s series-opening loss to New York. With that outing in mind, Valdez has yet to give up a run through his first three appearances and 5 2/3 innings pitched as a member of the Red Sox.

Originally claimed off waivers by Boston from the Seattle Mariners back in February, the 29-year-old hurler has struck out more than 27% of the 22 hitters he has faced so far this season while holding them to a .200 clip.

Because of his strong first impression, Valdez could find himself in more high-leverage spots out of the Red Sox bullpen in the near future. His manager, Ron Roenicke, said as much when speaking with reporters Friday night.

“He’s pitching himself maybe into a bigger role,” Roenicke explained. “That’s why we stuck with him today because he’s been throwing the ball well when he starts going through some of these really good hitters and getting them out.”

Some of those “really good hitters” Valdez has gotten out thus far include Aaron Judge and Luke Voit, who both fell victim to 84 mph changeups from the Dominican Republic national on Friday.

Signed by the Indians as a 17-year-old out of the DR back in 2008, Valdez made his major-league debut with the Texas Rangers last June and is under team control with Boston through the end of the 2025 season.

Per Statcast, the slender 6-foot-2, 160 lb. righty primarily works with a changeup and sinker, while his slider and four-seam fastball lean more towards secondary pitches.

At the time he joined the Sox during the first version of spring training earlier this year, Valdez seemed like a long shot to make Boston’s Opening Day roster. But, coming out of the pandemic-induced layoff, the club obviously liked what they saw during Summer Camp and he was in there pitching against the Orioles last Friday.

Now, after getting off to a hot start with his new team, Valdez could become a legitimate weapon out of the Red Sox bullpen if he continues to prove that he can handle tougher situations as a reliever.

Red Sox Claim Right-Hander Robert Stock off Waivers From Phillies

While dropping their second straight to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon, the Red Sox made a roster move in claiming right-hander Robert Stock off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

As the above tweet mentions, Stock has been optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket.

Now the 40th player on Boston’s 40-man roster, Stock was designated for assignment by Philadelphia on Thursday.

The 30-year-old hurler out of the University of Southern California has 42 career major-league relief appearances under his belt since making his big-league debut with the San Diego Padres in June 2018.

Between those 42 outings with the Phils and Pads, Stock owns a career 4.11 ERA and 3.67 FIP over 50 1/3 total innings of work. Granted, he surrendered 12 earned runs in just 10 2/3 innings pitched last year.

A former second-round selection of St. Louis back in the 2009 draft, Stock has spent time in the Cardinals, Astros, Pirates, Reds, Padres, and Phillies organizations. In other words, he’s been around.

Per his Statcast page, the 6-foot-1, 214 lb. righty works with a high-velocity four-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a sinker.

The addition of Stock for the Red Sox comes less than 24 hours after the club claimed left-hander Stephen Gonsalves off waivers from the Mets.

If the Sox intend to add Stock to their player pool, which is currently at its full capacity, another player who is currently in the pool will have to be removed.

Red Sox to Option Dylan Covey to Triple-A Pawtucket, Ron Roenicke Says

Following Saturday’s 7-2 loss at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, the Red Sox optioned right-hander Dylan Covey to Triple-A Pawtucket, manager Ron Roenicke announced.

Covey, who turns 29 next month, surrendered two earned runs on two hits and three strikeouts over two innings of relief in his Red Sox debut on Saturday.

The California native was acquired by Boston in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday and was subsequently added to the Sox’ 40-man roster the following day.

The goal in optioning Covey, per Roenicke, is to get him stretched out in Pawtucket. Of course, with no minor-league baseball this season, the righty will likely be limited to simulated games and live batting practices at McCoy Stadium in order for that to happen.

A corresponding move will be made by the Red Sox on Sunday and whoever is called up should get into a game in some capacity on Monday or Tuesday against the Mets, according to Roenicke.

If Boston elects to promote someone from their own 40-man roster, Kyle Hart, Chris Mazza, or Mike Shawaryn seem like logical choices. If it’s someone who is currently not on the 40-man roster, like Zack Godley or Brian Johnson, they will obviously need to be added in order to make this pending transaction possible.

There will be more to this before Sunday’s game against the Orioles, so stay tuned for that.

Red Sox Add Left-Hander Mike Kickham to Summer Camp Player Pool as Non-Roster Invitee

UPDATE: It looks like this move is now official.

The Red Sox have added left-hander Mike Kickham to their Summer Camp player pool as a non-roster invitee, per Major League Baseball’s transaction wire.

Kickham, 31, signed a minor-league deal with Boston back in December and appeared in three games for the club during the initial version of spring training.

Over that stretch, the St. Louis native allowed four runs, only one of which was earned, on six hits and one walk to go along with six strikeouts over 4 1/3 total innings of relief.

Prior to joining the Sox on said minor-league contract, Kickham spent time in the Giants, Cubs, Rangers, and Marlins’ farm system. The last time he saw major-league action came during the 2014 campaign, when he appeared in just two games for San Francisco.

Per his SoxProspects scouting report, Kickham’s pitching arsenal is comprised of a 90-91 mph fastball, an 88-90 MPH sinker, and an 80-83 MPH slider.

By adding Kickham to their player pool, the Red Sox now have 50 players on their Summer Camp roster, meaning the club still has 10 open slots to work with.

Red Sox Option Left-Hander Josh Osich to Triple-A Pawtucket

In their first roster move since Major League Baseball suspended spring training, the Red Sox have optioned left-hander Josh Osich to Triple-A Pawtucket. The club made the transaction official earlier Thursday.

Osich, 31, was originally claimed off waivers from the White Sox last October in what was Chaim Bloom’s first move as Boston’s chief baseball officer.

Coming off a year in which he posted a 4.66 ERA and .242 batting average against over 57 appearances and 67 2/3 innings of work for Chicago, Osich has had quite the busy offseason, as he was claimed by Boston in late October, then non-tendered in early December before coming back on a split contract two days later.

The Idaho native had surrendered just one earned run on three hits, four walks, and six strikeouts through his first four outings and 4 2/3 innings of the spring, but he will not make the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster, whenever Opening Day may be.

With this move, the Sox technically now have 46 players at major league camp.

Red Sox Agree to Minor-League Deal With Reliever Trevor Hildenberger

The Red Sox have reportedly signed right-handed reliever Trevor Hildenberger to a minor-league contract, according to KSTOR North’s Darren Wolfson. The deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Hildenberger, 29, appeared in 22 games for the Minnesota Twins last season, posting a 10.47 ERA and 5.28 xFIP over 16 1/3 innings of relief while bouncing around between the majors and Triple-A Rochester.

Once touted as one of the more impressive relief pitching prospects in the Twins’ system, the former 2014 22nd round pick got his big league career off to a roaring start, allowing a total of 15 runs over his first 37 outings and 42 frames pitched upon his first call up in June 2017.

Things have not worked out in Hildenberger’s favor since then though, which ultimately led to Minnesota non-tendering the California native last month at a point where he was not yet eligible for salary arbitration.

Per Statcast, Hildenberger relies mostly on a changeup and sinker while having a slider and four-seam fastball to turn to as well.

Come the beginning of spring training, Hildenberger should have a chance to compete for a spot in Boston’s bullpen where he would earn $700,000. And if he does not make it to the majors by August 15th, he can opt out of his deal, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

 

Red Sox Claim Chris Mazza off Waivers From Mets

Earlier Friday, the Red Sox claimed right-handed reliever Chris Mazza off waivers from the New York Mets.

Mazza, who was designated by New York last week, posted an ERA of 5.51 and xFIP of 5.47 over nine relief appearances and 16 1/3 innings of work this past season, his first in the majors.

The 30-year-old hurler was originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 27th round of the 2011 amateur draft out of Walnut Creek, Ca. and had to work his way through independent league ball in 2018 in order to make it back as a Rule 5 pick of the Mets that year.

While with the Mets’ Double- A and Triple-A clubs this season, Mazza allowed a total of 43 runs (40 earned) on 91 hits and 26 walks over 18 appearances, 17 of which were starts. That’s good for an ERA of 3.61 and batting average against of .247.

Per Statcast, Mazza relies on five pitches: a changeup, a cutter, a four-seam fastball, a sinker, and a slider. He averaged 90.6 MPH with his four-seamer in 2019.

Mazza joins left-hander Josh Osich as additions chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have made through waivers so far this offseason. As the above tweet mentions, the righty is the 40th player on the Red Sox’ current 40-man roster, which is subject to change.

Potential Red Sox Target Sergio Romo Goes Back to Twins on One-Year Deal

The Minnesota Twins have reportedly brought back right-handed reliever Sergio Romo on a one-year deal, $5 million deal that includes a club option for 2021, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Romo was seen as someone the Red Sox had interest in as recently as last week, but the 36-year-old ultimately winds up back with the club that acquired him from the Miami Marlins this past July.

In 65 relief appearances between Miami and Minnesota in 2019, Romo posted a 3.43 ERA and 3.68 FIP over 60 1/3 innings pitched.

Before that, the California native spent the latter half of the 2017 season and all off 2018 with the Rays, where he became the team’s first “opener” and started five games in ’18.

That’s where the Red Sox-related speculation comes in. Because at the time Romo was traded from the Dodgers to Tampa Bay in July 2017, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was serving as the Rays’ senior vice president of baseball operations.

In addition to that connection, Bloom’s right-hand man and Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran said during last week’s Winter Meetings that an opener is something Boston would be “open-minded” about.

Obviously, Romo is out of the question now, but that should not stop Bloom and Co. from pursuing other bullpen options that could also open for the Red Sox when needed.

Red Sox Free Agency Targets: Pedro Strop

MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday released their annual predictions for where this year’s crop of top 50 free agents will land this winter.

As it is already known, the Red Sox find themselves needing help out of the bullpen. That much is evident by how team chairman Tom Werner said that, ” we’re going to hopefully supplement our relief pitching,” back in September.

Whether adding new arms to the mix comes via trade or free agency has yet to be determined, but that should not stop new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from exploring his options.

Last month, I brought up the idea of the club reaching out to right-handed reliever and Massachusetts native Steve Cishek. Now, I am going to throw out another name who also spent the 2019 season with the Chicago Cubs in right-hander Pedro Strop.

MLBTR has the 34-year-old inking a one-year, $5 million deal with the Sox this winter.

Strop is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted a 4.97 ERA and 4.53 FIP over 50 relief appearances and 41 2/3 innings of work. Those numbers may not seem great on the surface, but it is worth mentioning that Strop did spend time on the injured list twice this year due to a left hamstring strain in May and left neck tightness in late July/early August.

Before that though, the Dominican Republic native had established himself as one of the better relievers in the National League since joining the Cubs from the Baltimore Orioles as part of the Jake Arrieta trade in July 2013.

Strop’s pitch arsenal includes a slider, four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, and split-finger fastball. He certainly appears to be someone who could very well bounce back in 2020.

Although Strop was the only free agent directly linked to the Sox by MLBTR, other named that Boston could be interested in include Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Jose Abreu, Daniel Hudson, Brock Holt, and Rich Hill.