For nearly all of their professional lives and even before that, dating to their time together in the Cape Cod League in 2009, Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman had seemed almost inseparable.
In 2013, behind an L-screen during batting practice in Trenton, N.J., Workman and another Double A Portland Sea Dogs teammate, Anthony Ranaudo, introduced Barnes to the spike curveball grip that changed his career. And Barnes had been teammates with Workman and Heath Hembree in the big leagues since 2014, first on last-place teams, but later as part of the late-innings core that helped deliver a championship in 2018.
On Friday night, as they had hundreds of times before, Barnes and Workman started the stroll from the dugout to the bullpen in the third inning of the Red Sox game against the Orioles. But after more than a decade as teammates, their paths then diverged, as Workman got called back to the dugout with news that he’d been traded to the Phillies. As Barnes continued to the bullpen, he also passed Hembree, who likewise had been summoned back to the clubhouse.
Barnes immediately understood that a long-familiar dynamic was gone.
“Definitely a harder one,” said Barnes. “But at the end of the day, it’s part of the business and unfortunately I have no control over that. It kind of is what it is.”
There are, of course, implications for Barnes as well. The fact that the Sox traded Workman (eligible for free agency this winter) and Hembree (under team control through 2021) suggests that Barnes (a free agent after 2021) likewise could move before the Aug. 31 trade deadline.
Last year before the trade deadline, several teams inquired about Barnes (5.06 ERA, 12 strikeouts, eight walks in 10⅔ innings), but the Sox weren’t willing to deal him. The team did discuss him with other teams during this past offseason and the Sox seem all but certain to do the same in advance of the deadline.
Barnes acknowledged thinking about the possibility of being dealt but said that he’s not dwelling on it.
“You wonder about it. Am I? Will I? But you’ve got to kind of keep that on the back burner as much as possible and go out there to prepared to do your job every night,” said Barnes. “In the middle of the game when two of my closest friends on the team — if not my closest friends on the team — get traded, I’m not sitting there worrying about ‘oh no am I next?’ … You have absolutely no control over whether or not I get traded so to me, worrying about something I have absolutely no control over seems like a waste of time.”
While Barnes could have made a natural successor to Workman as closer, for now, the Sox plan to give Barnes some ninth-inning opportunities while retaining the flexibility to use him in earlier situations (particularly the eighth) against the heart of an opposing lineup. Though Barnes struggled in a similar role at the start of 2019 — before Workman took over closing duties — he believes he’s better suited for the challenge now.
“There was still a little bit of uncertainty of how exactly that was going to work [in 2019],” said Barnes. “Having gone through that now and talking with [manager Ron Roenicke on Saturday], I think there’s a greater clarity on exactly what he’s looking for.”
Roenicke said that if Barnes is unavailable for the ninth, he could use Josh Taylor, Austin Brice, or Ryan Brasier to close. The manager noted that Taylor’s ability to handle lefties (who have hit .200/.253/.300 against the southpaw) could play into how he uses his bullpen.
Nothing worked out well Saturday. Taylor blew a two-run lead in the eighth, and Barnes, handed a one-run lead in the 10th, blew that one, too, in the 5-4 loss to the Orioles.
Pivetta checks in
Righthander Nick Pivetta, acquired from the Phillies in Friday’s trade, talked with farm director Ben Crockett on Saturday as the 27-year-old prepares to report to the Red Sox alternate site in Pawtucket. Pivetta affirmed his desire to start while the Sox made clear their own interest in seeing him in the rotation.
The Sox are still having internal discussions about whether to bring Pivetta into the big league rotation immediately or whether to give him time in Pawtucket to discuss potential adjustments to his mechanics, pitch mix, and pitch usage.
“We want to get to know him first before [we] figure out does he come join us and jump right in the rotation or is it better for him to stay [in Pawtucket] for a little bit and work on some things and talk about the different mechanics that have changed over the last two or three years and trying to figure him out better so when we have him here he’s more able to really succeed,” said Roenicke. “I know [pitching coach Dave Bush] has taken a look at video of him and watched it along with some of our other guys. They’re trying to see what has worked better, what he wants to do, analytically what shows up better on numbers with pitches. All that goes into why we may want to wait or why we may want to jump in and get him in that rotation for the rest of the year.”
Verdugo’s (part-time) leadoff role
Alex Verdugo led off on Saturday against Orioles righthander Alex Cobb, the fourth straight time Roenicke slotted Verdugo into the lineup’s top spot against a righthanded starter. However, Roenicke said that he plans to continue to use Verdugo lower in the order against lefties in order to avoid having Verdugo and fellow lefthanded hitter Rafael Devers stacked in the top two spots in the order … While the Brewers designated Brock Holt (3-for-30, 9 strikeouts) for assignment, a reunion with the Red Sox seems unlikely for the incredibly popular utility man. With the Sox using 2020 to evaluate players with a chance to contribute longer term, the team seems unlikely to sacrifice playing time for a player like Jonathan Arauz by bringing back Holt … On Friday, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez both homered, the 20th time in their time as Red Sox teammates — and their first in 2020 — that both players had homered in the same game. According to Elias, there are 26 pairs of Red Sox players that have homered in the same game at least 20 times, led by Jim Rice and Dwight Evans (56 times). “You see a lot of the guys in the middle of the order — Bogey, Devers, J.D. — are starting to swing the bat well, what we thought they were going to do,” said Barnes ... With Workman and Hembree gone, the Red Sox recalled righthander Robert Stock and lefthander Jeffrey Springs from Pawtucket.