Sox prospect Barnes looking to build off 'successful' first season

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Sox prospect Barnes looking to build off 'successful' first season

His first professional season was a bit of a learning experience for right-hander Matt Barnes, the Red Sox first pick (19th overall) in the 2011 draft out of UConn.

I had a blast this season, said Barnes, the native of Bethel, Conn. The first half was more than I could have expected in terms of performance. Then the second half I learned a little bit about myself, about the game. But overall I thought it was a pretty successful year and I had a blast meeting new guys and getting acclimated to the Red Sox system.

He is home in Connecticut now, where his family hosted 16 guests on Thanksgiving Day with another 24 expected for dinner the day after. One of the perks of being part of the Red Sox organization is that as he eventually inevitably -- moves up the system, he also moves closer to home Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket before Boston.

Thats one of the things that I really love about playing for a team thats in the Northeast is that the closer I get to the big leagues the closer I get to home, which is really nice, he said. My parents are able to come out and see me play, which is really important. My family and friends can come and see me play, which is really nice.

His first season, though, was a bit of an adjustment to professional baseball, to a longer season, to better hitters. Although Barnes was picked in the 2011 draft, he didnt sign until August that year and did not appear in a game in the Sox organization that season.

I think I learned how to actually pitch, Barnes said of his first season. And when I say learned how to pitch, I mean learned how to incorporate different pitches and to turn more to the finer aspects of pitching rather than just kind of throwing. I learned how to deal with failure a little bit because I saw some of that in the second half, for sure. And just kind of learned how to deal with the first full season, because it can get a little bit long, especially the first year, and what I need to do to take care of my body so that I put myself in the best position possible to succeed in the second half.

Barnes had plenty of success early in the season. He began 2102 with Single-A Greenville, where he was nearly unhittable, as his .130 opponents average attests. In five starts, he posted a record of 2-0 with a 0.34 ERA. In 26 23 innings, he allowed just one run on 12 hits with 42 strikeouts and just four walks, for a WHIP of 0.60, a 14.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio, and 10.50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

But, after he was promoted to High-A Salem, Barnes faced more of a challenge. In 20 starts with Salem, he was 5-5 with a 3.58 ERA, and a .250 opponents average. In 93 innings, he gave up 85 hits and 25 walks with 91 strikeouts, for a 1.183 WHIP, 8.8 K9, and 3.64 KBB.

I think the biggest adjustment were the guys in Salem were just a little bit more seasoned, Barnes said. They had been there a little longer, in pro ball a little longer. The guys were a little older. Their pitch selection was a little bit better. They didnt chase pitches as much. And I think they hit mistakes a little bit better. You have to mix pitches a little bit more and you have to make your pitch when you need to. A 2-0 pitch, you cant throw it right down the middle of the plate and say Here you go to a 22-year-old college hitter whos seen good fastballs for the last couple of years. Whereas maybe in Low-A you have some guys who are a little bit younger who are maybe still trying to get adjusted to pro ball. And as you get older and you played against kids who are more seasoned sometimes you can get away things.

He started out strong with Salem, posting a record of 2-1 (1.93) in five May starts. But, his numbers began to slip as the season went on. He was unbeaten at 3-0 in June but his ERA climbed to 3.57. In five July he was 0-3 (4.98), and in five combined starts in August and September he was 0-1 (4.35).

Still, he is pleased with his first season.

I think there were two things that kind of went hand in hand, he said. I think my fastball command was exceptional in the first half. It dwindled a little bit from time to time in the second half but overall I thought my fastball command was really good and was happy with it. The second thing was development of a changeup. It went from kind of there, to use it once in a while, to a pitch that I started to throw at points 10, 11, 12 times a game. thats really helped me out, especially when the curveball wasnt as consistent as Id like it to be.

Barnes, who turned 22 in June, is 6-feet-4, 205 pounds. His fastball is generally 93-95, and can touch 97, 98. Some of the inconsistency, he thought, can be attributed to the longer season.

I think the fastball command, it was just my body getting a little bit tired toward the end, he said. Lower half wasnt as strong, arm was a little tired just from throwing every single day for five or six months.

The season is definitely longer than college and summer ball combined. And it can drag in points but thats why you have your teammates and people helping you through it. But at the end of the day you got to remember youre doing something you love. Your body gets a little tired, and I think thats what everybody says the first year adjustments are like. You have to adjust to your first full season, and once you get to your second season time flies by. So Im looking forward to that.

Barnes could start next season back with Salem, or the Sox could send him to Double-A Portland. He wont find out until the end of spring training, though. Barnes has been working out and will begin his throwing program next month. Hell head to Fort Myers in early February to begin his second full season. Hell have some goals set for himself then.

Im going to go out there and try to perform to the best of my capabilities and I want to, like Ive always tried to do, I want to be as consistent as possible and try and give the team a good outing every time I step on that rubber, he said.

Barnes could be part of the big league team by 2014. Hes trying not to focus on that for now.

I want to get there as soon as possible, as Im sure everybody in minor leagues does, he said. They want to try and get to the big leagues as soon as possible. But I try not to focus on where I go, when I go. I really dont have any control over that other than just how I perform. I just try to focus on how I perform and trying to perform to the best of my abilities and kind of let the rest take care of itself.

Farrell: 'Strike-throwing is a priority' for Owens in Triple A

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Farrell: 'Strike-throwing is a priority' for Owens in Triple A

NEW YORK -- Following a six-walk effort Thursday in Chicago, Henry Owens found himself optioned back to Pawtucket Friday, removed from the Red Sox rotation after three sub-par starts.

Owens lasted just three-plus innings Thursday, and allowed two runs. In three starts since being promoted to replace Joe Kelly in the Red Sox rotation, Owens walked 13 in 12 1/3 innings while allowing 13 hits for a ghastly 2.108 WHIP and a 5.11 ERA.

"Henry needs to go back and learn to command his fastball with more consistency,'' said John Farrell. "He's got an outstanding changeup that can get him back in some counts and get him away from some damage. But the strike-throwing is a priority here.''

In addition to wildness, Owens saw his velocity dip, with his fastball topping out at 90 mph most times.

But Farrell insisted there isn't a physical issue with the lefty.

"One thing that we can for sure rule out is health,'' said Farrell. "There's no health issues at play here. I think when a pitcher's delivery is not in sync, he's not getting the most power out of it (in terms of velocity). And then, with the strike throwing, it becomes a confidence factor. I don't want to say he was tentative or it was a lack of aggressiveness, but I think when you're feeling for pitches to try to get them in the strike zone, there might be a tentativeness that takes over.''

Owens has a quality changeup that can throw off hitters' timing and get weak contact, as happened Thursday night. But that pitch is only effective when he can set it up more with his fastball.

"That creates a little more margin for error,'' said Farrell of the changeup as a weapon, "but you've got to be in the strike zone first.''

Owens seemed to regress some from last year, when he was 4-4 in 11 starts with a 4.57 ERA. He pitched into the eighth inning in three straight starts in September.

"It's the second time he's been in the big leagues with us,'' said Farrell. "When the opportunity presents, you take it and run with it. I felt last year, he pitched effectively. He pitched very good at times. There were a couple of starts where he didn't have his best stuff, but he found his way into the sixth or into the seventh inning. That was (what we were hoping for) last year. OK, he's battling but he's finding a way to get through it.

"As far as his opportunity, I'm sure he'll back to us at some point.''

Asked if the Red Sox had expected more from Owens, Farrell didn't mince words.

"Based on what he showed at this level last year, yes,'' said Farrell.

Owens was replaced on the roster by Sean O'Sullivan, who was with the club here Friday afternoon and in the bullpen, at least temporarily.

He could take Owens's spot in the rotation Tuesday.

"He's a candidates, yes,'' said Farrell.

O'Sullivan is with his fifth different organization, having pitched with the Angels, Royals, Padres and Phillies.

He signed with the Red Sox last winter as a free agent, in part attracted by the presence of pitching coordinator Brian Bannister, a one-time teammate of O'Sullivan with the Royals. Bannister has taken an innovative, analytical approach to pitching and has already helped O'Sullivan.

"When he was in (spring training) camp,'' said Farrell, "he showed more arm strength than anticipated. The strike-throwing has been above-average for him. A veteran guy who's pitched at this level for extended outings. We felt like that dependability and durability were also a factor in getting him here.''

Farrell credited an improved cutter and "more consistent location down in the strike one,'' accounting for O'Sullivan's improved results at Triple A.

O'Sullivan wasn't on the 40-man roster until Friday, when he was added. The Sox shifted third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the 60-day DL to make room.

 

Terry Rozier believes he can build off his postseason opportunity

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Terry Rozier believes he can build off his postseason opportunity

BOSTON – If you look at Terry Rozier’s basketball odyssey, it is filled with moments in which the 6-foot-2 guard got a shot to make an impact and more often than not, he did.

During Boston’s first-round playoff series against Atlanta, Rozier went from a seldom-used reserve into a viable option off the bench that head coach Brad Stevens turned to a lot.

In fact, Rozier’s playing time in the playoffs more than doubled (19.8 minutes) from the minutes he logged per game (8.0) during the regular season.

“With this business, how it works, it’s all about opportunity,” Rozier said. “And my opportunity just happened to come (in the playoffs).”

And Rozier for the most part made the most of it.

It was an opportunity Rozier believes he can build on during the offseason with a goal being to cement a spot for himself in the team’s regular rotation.

He understands all too well that his opportunity to play more was due in large part to Avery Bradley suffering a right hamstring injury of the fourth quarter of Boston’s Game 1 loss at Atlanta.

The increased playing time naturally brought about a bump in his overall stats as his scoring (4.8 points versus 1.8), rebounding (3.4 versus 1.6) and effective shooting percentage (.478 versus .302) all underwent a significant increase.

“I try to take advantage of it as much as I can,” Rozier said of his increased role. “Whether it was rebounding, whatever the coach needed me to do. Like I said, I was happy to be out there just to enjoy the time with a lot of my teammates. It’s been a great year. I had a lot of fun.”

But as Rozier will soon find out, past success doesn’t necessarily correlate with improved play going forward.

In addition to putting in the necessary work to improve physically, Rozier knows he has to step his game up mentally, too.

The best players in the league have a certain swagger, an elite level of confidence about them that often separates them from the masses.

Rozier isn’t quite there yet, but having been given an opportunity to see his most action in the postseason can only help.

“I’m gonna feel more confident,” he said. “Not too many rookies can say they played in the playoffs. It’s definitely going to give me a boost for summer league. I’ll have the ball in my hands a lot. It’s definitely going to be a confidence booster.”

Among the areas that Rozier sees as an absolute-must for him next season is being more vocal with his teammates.

“This year was more learning, watching it and all the veterans,” he said. “Next year, I think I can take on a bigger role.”

Boston’s Evan Turner agrees.

“He’s going to be a good player in this league,” Turner told CSNNE.com. “He already defends at an NBA-level, a high level, so that’s half the battle right there. He just has to get more comfortable with his game, with his teammates and he’ll be fine.”

One thing that hasn’t been a problem for Rozier thus far in the NBA is rebounding.

This past season, he averaged 9.7 rebounds per 48 minutes which ranked 8th in the NBA. And his offensive rebound average per 48 minutes (3.7) was tops among players who logged at least 300 minutes this past season.

“It goes back to me just the way I grew up,” Rozier said. “Rebounding was always my thing. It’s something you can’t teach; it’s part of toughness. That’s something, I don’t think it’s ever going to leave me.”

Rozier said his goal next season is to average at least five rebounds per game which would put him in some pretty exclusive company.

This past season, only 12 guards averaged at least five rebounds who logged more than 300 minutes per game.

But as Rozier has shown us thus far, he can be an impactful player when given an opportunity – something he believes he will get more of next season.

“I can’t wait until next season,” Rozier said. “I felt (our season) was cut a little short. But unfortunately, things come to an end. We’ll be back next season. We’ll be better; I’ll be better. That’s the most important thing.”

Tonight's lineups: Red Sox vs. Yankees

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Tonight's lineups: Red Sox vs. Yankees

Rick Porcello attempts to increase his record to 6-0 as he starts tonight for the Red Sox against the Yankees in the opener of their three-game series in New York.

Tonight's lineups:

RED SOX
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DB
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Brock Holt LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
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Rick Porcello P

YANKEES
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran DH
Starlin Castro 2B
Aaron Hicks RF
Didi Gregorius SS
Ronnie Torreyes 3B
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Michael Pineda P