When Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes tested positive for COVID-19 Saturday, he was in complete shock. But after returning multiple negative tests since then, he has satisfied the Major League Baseball and Players’ Association joint protocols, allowing him to return to the team.
Barnes’s Saturday result has been categorized as a false positive or non-infectious positive.
“I feel very relieved,” Barnes said Tuesday morning. “You’ve been putting in the work the entire offseason and all spring training and getting to a point where you’re ready to go for the season.
“The medical staff here did a great job of, you know, staying in contact with me following the protocols.”
Barnes is the Red Sox’ union representative and helped sculpt some of the protocols, so remaining diligent was even more of a responsibility for him. He said he spent the majority of spring training in isolation when he wasn’t at the field, which made Saturday’s positive test even more surprising.
“It was crazy to me,” Barnes said. “When I found out on Saturday morning, I was like, there’s no way. I just haven’t gone anywhere.”
The brief setback hasn’t slowed Barnes’s progression. He fully expects to be with the team on Opening Day as a weapon in the back part of the bullpen.
“That won’t set me back,” Barnes said. “I mean, sometimes I don’t throw for two days in May or June just because.”
After an inconsistent 2020 season, Barnes was in top form throughout camp. He didn’t allow a run in five Grapefruit League appearances (5⅓ innings), yielded just two hits, and tallied eight strikeouts.
“It was his best fastball,” manager Alex Cora said. “Last year, his fastball wasn’t there. He’s made a few adjustments mechanics-wise, which I think they’re going to pay off.
“So he’s in a good spot, obviously, heavy week, with everything that went on. So just for him to slow everything down and just go through his workouts and do all that stuff, I think it was obviously good for him but also good for us.”
The Red Sox still haven’t announced who will be the closer, with Barnes and Adam Ottavino the two front-runners. From the beginning of camp, Barnes made it clear that he wants the gig. His performance can only help his case, yet Ottavino would be a solid choice as well.
Ottavino, too, had an impressive spring after a down year with the Yankees in 2020. He pitched 6⅓ innings without allowing an earned run, striking out seven.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Cora said, he still hadn’t discussed the situation with Barnes or Ottavino. But with Opening Day scheduled for Thursday, that conversation will happen within the next day, the manager said.
The two will play a large role in the bullpen regardless of who takes the ball in the ninth inning. Especially considering the Red Sox will be without reliever Ryan Brasier, who suffered a Grade 2 calf strain in a B game Monday that will result in a trip to the injured list.
Brasier’s injury also thrusts Josh Taylor into a larger role.
But Ottavino and Barnes are the linchpins to this group of relievers, and the way each threw the ball during the spring should give Sox fans some reassurance heading into the season.
As it pertains to Barnes, he’s healthy after a brief COVID scare, and his stuff on the mound is there.
“I do believe that his fastball is going to be a factor this year,” Cora said. “That’s something I’m looking forward to seeing.”