April 25, 2012 at 9:41 AM
|Matt Barnes (Kelly O'Connor)|
SALISBURY, MD. – Greenville right-hander Matt Barnes was every bit the equal of Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy on Tuesday night, matching zeroes with Bundy en route to a no decision in the Drive’s 4-2 loss at Delmarva (BAL).
Barnes struck out nine in 5.0 scoreless innings for the Drive, ceding just three hits and walking two on the night. While operating within a tight strike zone, he threw 54 of his 77 pitches for strikes and through 21.0 innings, kept his season ERA at 0.00.
“I thought it was pretty good,” Barnes said after the start. “I pounded the zone early with the fastball, and I was able to make pitches when I had to.”
After Bundy opened the game with a pair of strikeouts in the top half of the first, Barnes responded with two of his own. He fanned leadoff batter Glynn Davis on three pitches, punctuated by a 95 mph fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike. After a single to right field and a fly-out the same way, Barnes got catcher Gabriel Lino to chase a 77 mph curveball for his second strikeout of the frame.
A one-out double on a grounder down the first base line in the second inning gave Delmarva one of its two runners in scoring position against Barnes, but the 22-year-old out of UConn sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around his first walk of the game to get out unscathed.
Greenville pitching coach Dick Such said he was most impressed with Barnes’ handling of runners on base in the outing.
“You’d think when you put up all those zeros, you might panic when you get some base runners, but he had five tonight and he worked his way around them and did a nice job,” Such said.
Barnes picked up two more strikeouts—and a second walk—in the third inning, and was at 48 pitches through three. But it was his fourth inning that was Barnes’ most impressive. He struck out the side on 15 pitches—picking up swinging strike-threes on each—to give him nine in the outing.
The only other blemish of Barnes’ evening came with two down in the fifth, when Davis singled up the middle and advanced to second on a balk, but Barnes ultimately got out of the inning unscathed.
Seven of Barnes' nine strikeouts came via his fastball, which sat between 93 and 96 mph and topped out at 97 twice. Throughout the evening, Barnes spotted his fastball on the corner well and left the Delmarva hitters guessing. Of his 54 strikes, 19 were called strikes on fastballs—many of which came in at the knees on either edge of the plate.
When he commanded it, Barnes’ curveball was sharp and deceptive, but he threw the pitch for a strike only twice and just missed the edge on two others. When he struggled, the pitch started low and ended in the dirt. He said command of the pitch has been good thus far, but was frustrating Tuesday.
“Even if it was a good pitch, it wasn’t where I wanted it,” he said. “Sometimes my arm lagged behind a bit, but overall, I can’t really complain. The off-speed stuff has been pretty good all season.”
Such said they’re also working on adding Barnes’ changeup into the mix so he’s used to throwing it as he advances in the system. Against the Shorebirds, Barnes threw half of his eight changeups for strikes and worked the pitch in more frequently the second time through the lineup.
But as the front office has said throughout the young season, Barnes, an advanced college pitcher, is in the South Atlantic League to get used to the five-man rotation and the routines of professional baseball. Barnes said the transition has been “pretty smooth.”
“The trainers have been doing a good job helping me,” he said. “We’ve been taking care of everything, conditioning, side sessions, and things like that.”
Such agreed that the progression is going well, and that unlike other pitchers he’s seen in Barnes’ situation, Barnes has been under control in each of his starts.
Specifically, Such said that at this young stage in his career, Barnes compares favorably to fellow college ace Anthony Ranaudo, who spent the first two months of last season in Greenville before his promotion to Salem—a path many assume Barnes will mirror.
Through four starts, Ranaudo had a 0.46 ERA in 19.2 innings pitched. He was ultimately promoted to Salem after 10 starts with a 3.33 ERA.
“I think Barnesy may be, with his ERA the way it is, ahead of Ranaudo at this stage, but when Anthony got on his game and started angling the ball down, good things started to happen,” Such said. “That was about the only difference. Ranaudo was up in the zone a little bit to start with last year, and Barnes is down in the zone. I think they’ve both got outstanding stuff, and I think both of them have got a bright future ahead of them.”
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.