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A tale of late-career excellence for Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, and Ryan Pressly

Matt Barnes was part of a towering rotation at High-A Salem in 2012 with fellow future major leaguers Brandon Workman and Ryan Pressly.File/Winslow Townson/Associated Press/FR170221 AP via AP

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Back in 2012, Astros reliever Ryan Pressly and Red Sox bullpen members Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman all shared a rotation. They also shared a pair of pants.


In High-A Salem that year, the rotation — which for a time featured Pressly, Barnes, Workman, Drake Britton, and Miguel Celestino — shared a couple of traits. All five members ranged between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-6 while featuring high-octane, mid-90s stuff, at a time when such radar gun readings represented exceptions rather than the norm.

And when lefthander Britton’s pants suffered a busted zipper prior to a start, he got an emergency loaner from Workman. A strange tradition was born following a standout start by Britton. The passing of the pants.


“We had a pair that fit good, so we passed them around,” Workman recalled with a laugh.

While the pants fit, the roles didn’t. Pressly, Barnes, and Workman have all redefined their careers as relievers, and all three have been among the most dominant in baseball this year.

In 2012, all three lived chiefly with their fastballs. Though Workman had a good curveball, he leaned on his fastball the vast majority of the time, while Pressly and Barnes at times seemed almost solely reliant on their heaters; neither could throw a breaking ball reliably for a strike.

Now, all of them throw breaking balls a majority of the time. Barnes throws 41 percent fastballs while leaning chiefly on his curve — the pitch that he employed on the 11th pitch of an at-bat against Carlos Correa leading off the eight to strike out the Astros star. Workman (30 percent fastballs) likewise leans chiefly on his curve and cutter, and Pressly (38 percent fastballs) freely employs his curve and slider.


“If you don’t adapt, then you’re not playing anymore,” said Workman. “It’s something that happened to all of us. . . . It’s kind of the way the game is going, especially out of the ‘pen. You’ve got to really spin it. It’s something we’ve all had to adapt to doing, instead of throwing 70, 80 percent fastballs.”

While Pressly’s record-setting run of 39 straight scoreless appearances garners the most notice, all three have been dominant this year in different roles and with different mixes than they featured as teammates.

Barnes (1.42 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 4 walks in 19 innings) is the linchpin of the Red Sox bullpen, the pitcher whose versatility and willingness to stare down the best hitters in an opposing lineup regardless of inning has allowed the team to adopt a mix-and-match approach to the ninth.

“I knew coming into the season that he was going to be able to do what he’s doing right now,” said Cora. “This [bullpen structure] doesn’t happen without him.”

Brandon Workman celebrates completing his first career save with teammates on Sunday at Fenway against the Astros.Kathryn Riley/Getty Images/Getty Images

Workman, meanwhile, has a 2.21 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 20⅓ innings. He’s moved up the leverage ladder, an ascent that culminated on Sunday in his first career save. For Barnes, his longtime teammate’s accomplishment was particularly gratifying.

“He works his [tail] off to get what he wants,” said Barnes. “Watching him come back from the 16-month process with Tommy John and to get back to this point is truly a testament to his character and work ethic.”

The same can be said for Barnes and Pressly, who have shared an unexpected journey.


“It’s crazy, it really is, to see the path that everyone has taken and how we more or less ended up in the same spot,” said Barnes.

Price on tap

Even though David Price knew that the left elbow tendinitis that resulted in his placement on the injured list was minor, it didn’t make it any easier for him to go 16 days between starts.

“It was what I thought — 100 [percent] what I thought,” said Price (1-2, 3.75 ERA). “[But] I lost my mind.”

With the knowledge that he’ll be starting against the Blue Jays on Monday — his first outing since May 2 against the White Sox — has he regained it?

“Not yet,” said Price. “[Monday] I will.”

Cora said that while the team would be protective of Price in his return, he believed the lefthander can deliver “15 to 18 outs.”

Pedroia’s rehab road

For the first time since he went on the injured list due to left knee discomfort on April 17, Dustin Pedroia completed a stretch of three games in as many days on Sunday. Serving as the designated hitter for Triple-A Pawtucket, Pedroia went 1-for-4; he was 2 for 11 in the three games. After an off-day on Monday, he’ll join the PawSox on the road against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. Pedroia is slated to play second base . . . He’ll be joined on the road by Brock Holt, who went 1-for-3 with a homer, a walk, and a strikeout while playing second base. Holt will play shortstop on Tuesday . . . Lefthander Brian Johnson is slated to make his next rehab appearance on Tuesday . . . Catcher Sandy Leon, who was away from the team on paternity leave over the weekend, will rejoin the team on Monday.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.