It was just more than a year ago that Matt Barnes was an All-Star. He was a sure-bet, lockdown closer, finishing the first half of the year with 19 saves, a 2.61 ERA, and 63 strikeouts in 38 innings. It was just more than a year ago that he signed his two-year, $18.75 million contract extension, with a club option for a third.
It was just more than a year ago that his descent from those highs began, too. He’s gone as low as he could go. Back to the Florida Coast League after going on the injured list with shoulder inflammation at the end of May.
He has pitched as bad as he could pitch — a 6.48 ERA after that All-Star Game last season, and a 7.94 ERA in 20 appearances this year. Barnes, who is on the 60-day IL and began a rehab stint at Triple A Worcester on Friday, hasn’t pitched for the Sox since May 30. He spent most of that time at the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., watching his team surge in June, but fall in July.
“It’s been long and I kind of didn’t anticipate it being this long, but it’s kind of the way [expletive] happens sometimes,” said Barnes, who was at Fenway Saturday preparing for an outing Sunday — he allowed two runs on a pair of singles, a hit batter, and a walk in 23 pitches at Polar Park. “It’s certainly been frustrating at points, but just trying to take the opportunity to work on some stuff. Get healthy.”
Barnes worked two-thirds of an inning Friday at Worcester without allowing a run.
For Barnes, being away from the team hurt. Being such a contributor, then sitting with your failures, sometimes alone, made it tough. But Barnes didn’t sit for long. He couldn’t. His reality was what it was. He had to keep a positive perspective, and keep it about the work.
“You’ve got a bunch of [young guys] down there,” Barnes said. “We’re playing games down there every day. So, I tried to make it a point of showing up with a good attitude. Making sure that I got my work in, and I kind of did it in a professional, big-league manner because those guys are watching. I try not to be selfish or kind of drag my situation into what those guys are doing.”
Barnes is around 94-95 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball, according to manager Alex Cora. His velocity was a concern coming into spring training, hanging around 92-93 m.p.h. It ticked up as the year began, but the results were the same.
The Sox hoped a reset would help. So, the 2021 All-Star had to go back to the beginning.
“Truthfully, it was harder in the beginning,” Barnes said. “I mean, it took some work, but I think a lot of people kind of discount it and look at just the physical product. But when you take into consideration the mental side of what [I] was halfway through last season to the end of last season to now, you get kicked back down to the bottom of the mountain, and then feel like, ‘Man, how did this happen?’ ”
The Red Sox were swept by the Blue Jays, ending with Sunday’s 8-4 loss, as Barnes threw his fraught inning in Worcester. It was a result neither wanted, but just as Barnes is about a year removed from the All-Star Game, the Red Sox are nine months removed from the American League Championship Series.
Both are trying to recapture what they have lost.
Story gets in the cage
Trevor Story (bruised right hand) took swings in the batting cage both before and during the 8-4 loss to Toronto, the first time since before the All-Star break the second baseman’s done that. “I feel much better and just rehabbing around the clock. The whole time trying to get better,” he said before the game. “Definitely moving in the right direction. Once I can get [the hand] going and let it rip without crazy soreness, then that will be good. I just have been playing around with the bat just because it’s hard for me to stay away from it” . . . J.D. Martinez missed a third straight game with back spasms. The Sox had hoped he might be ready to play Sunday, but will instead target Monday’s series opener against Cleveland. “He’s getting treatment and all that,” Cora said. “Feeling better” . . . Nick Pivetta, who was pushed back a day, will start Monday against the Guardians. There’s a strong chance Josh Winckowski will be activated off the COVID-IL to start Tuesday, followed by Nate Eovaldi on Wednesday and most likely Kutter Crawford on Thursday. The Guardians plan to throw Zach Plesac, a to-be-determined pitcher Tuesday, Cal Quantrill, and Triston McKenzie . . . Rich Hill (left knee sprain) threw another bullpen Sunday . . . The Sox played part of David Ortiz’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony on the video board during Sunday’s game, then additional clips following it.