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Matt Barnes’s struggles from the end of the 2021 season have rolled into spring training.
The Red Sox reliever has struggled to reach his usual velocity in the 2022 exhibition season. Through four spring outings, Barnes’s fastball has traveled at 92-93 mph speeds. That’s noticeably down from last season when his fastball speed average was 95.8 mph.
After Barnes gave up a run on two hits in the Red Sox’ 7-2 loss to the Pirates on Saturday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Sunday that they think they found the mechanical issue that’s caused Barnes’s velocity to go down.
“I think it’s something about his leg kick,” Cora said. “Last year he was a lot tighter. Now he’s like loose. If you want to use a reference, it’s like a figure skater. When you open, it slows down. When you close, you’re actually faster, quicker. So hopefully that’s what gets him going. Kind of engaged in his delivery. And then he doesn’t have to create. Right now, mechanically he’s so off and then he tries to create velocity and it’s not there.”
In his other three outings this spring, Barnes gave up one run on two hits and a walk, striking out five hitters over three innings pitched. Following Saturday’s game, Cora expressed concern over Barnes’s fastball speed.
“Hopefully his [velocity] ticks up before we get there, because that was a game-changer last year: [velocity] and attacking,” Cora said. “So we’ll take a look at it and keep working with him. But that’s something that caught my attention today. … You saw the kids throwing 95-96. We’re at the stage in spring regardless of where we’re at, 19 days, 20 days, whatever, we’re almost there. And we need to get going.”
Barnes had a strong start to the 2021 season, asserting himself as the Red Sox’ closer. He had 19 saves with a 4-2 record and a 2.61 ERA that earned him an All-Star nod. But his play took a massive dip following the All-Star break, going 1-3 with a 13.50 ERA over 11 appearances in August. Not only did Barnes lose his role as the team’s closer, but the team used him just six times the rest of the regular season and only once in the playoffs.
Barnes figures to have a role again in the Red Sox’ bullpen, especially after the departure of righty Adam Ottavino, who led the team in relief appearances in 2021.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Barnes isn’t alone in his bullpen struggles this spring. Jake Diekman has a six-to-five walk-to-strikeout ratio over 3 2/3 innings pitched this spring. Ryan Brasier has had velocity issues as well, giving up five runs on seven hits and two walks over 2 2/3 innings pitched.
Cora acknowledged that the shortened camp could be a reason for the struggles his relievers are having. But that’s not changing how he expects them to perform when the regular season begins on Thursday.
“Relievers are the ones who have quote-unquote suffered,” Cora said. “[But] we expect them to be ready. I think everybody’s in the same boat.”
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