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July 19, 2012 at 5:40 PM

Barnes grinds through three innings, fans five in blowout

FREDERICK, Md. --- Top prospect Matt Barnes (pictured) surrendered just one unearned run on two hits in three innings, but was pulled when he hit 75 pitches in High A Salem’s 11-1 drubbing of the Frederick Keys (BAL) Thursday afternoon.

“I was just a victim of pitch count,” Barnes, who struck out five in the brief outing, said after the game. “I thought my stuff was really good today. I thought it was the best it’s been in the last few starts, at least. I can’t be upset with the way I threw. A couple tough breaks, but overall, the outing went pretty well.”

The 6-foot-4 right-hander out of the University of Connecticut threw almost exclusively fastballs in the first, though he was admittedly nibbling and had trouble locating it for strikes early in the inning. A one-out blooper fell between shortstop Xander Bogaerts and left fielder Brandon Jacobs in shallow left, and after walking the next batter, Barnes fanned Tyler Townsend and Jeremy Nowak on elevated fastballs to get out of the jam.

However, the Keys did well to bring Barnes pitch count up in the first and second. After a 31-pitch first in which the final four batters worked the count full, Barnes went to three-ball counts with each of the three batters in the second inning — all of whom ultimately grounded out weakly. The final pitch of the frame was his 52nd of the game.

The Keys picked up their second hit of the game to open the third when Garabez Rosa fisted one over second baseman Sean Coyle’s head, but Barnes fanned the next batter on a tight 78 mph curveball — one of his sharper off-speed offerings of the day. Barnes hit the next batter with a fastball, but struck out the last two batters he faced on low-90s fastballs. Just as he seemed to be hitting his stride, however, Andrew Jones began warming up in the bullpen, and Barnes didn’t come out for the fourth.

“On a hot day like this, it being July, hitting that (75-pitch) mark, and doing that in three innings, we thought it was best for him to go ahead and shut him down,” pitching coach Kevin Walker said. “Other than giving up one clean hit today, he grinded through three innings. And when I say grinded, it was just more pitch count. He didn’t really have anyone on base, but the pitch count got him. He worked some long at-bats, had a good fastball, and they kept fouling a lot of pitches off.”

Though his command was spotty early on, Barnes’s fastball was much heavier in the second and third innings. His heater sat 92-95 mph throughout the outing, with Barnes reaching back for 95 and 96 mph late in counts.

Walker said Barnes’ pitch mix is “still in progress,” and will continue to be an area of focus as the season moves on. “The curveball is better,” Walker said. “We’re still focused on the changeup usage and making it a part of his game. He got away from it today… The only way to get a good changeup is to throw it in games and continue to throw it in games, and find some trust with it.”

Barnes threw a half-dozen 76-78 mph curveballs, but just a couple mid-80s changeups. Of Barnes' 75 pitches in the outing, 45 went for strikes. Though it wasn’t a long one, the outing represented another step in the right direction for Barnes after his first poor stretch this season.

After beginning his Salem career with eight impressive starts (5-1, 1.37 ERA with 53 strikeouts), Barnes scuffled in three straight outings leading up to the MLB All-Star Futures Game. In those three starts, Barnes allowed 14 earned runs in 8.1 innings, but after his two pitch, two out outing in the Futures Game, Barnes righted the ship with five strong innings against Lynchburg on July 14.

In 18 starts between Low A Greenville and Salem, Barnes is 7-3 with a 2.33 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 89 innings.

Photo credit: Matt Barnes by John Corneau/Lowell Spinners

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.