Matt Barnes wasn’t looking for outs, wasn’t looking for stats. This outing was all about how he felt.
“That is the best that I’ve felt in probably a month,” Barnes said Wednesday after throwing the first inning for the Double A Portland Sea Dogs at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. “I had a good fastball down and away, good breaking ball, I was able to bounce one when I needed to. .. That felt like April and May.
The Red Sox need Barnes, their All-Star closer from Bethel and UConn, to regain his early season form. Inactive since Aug. 29 due to a breakthrough case of COVID-19 he expects now to rejoin the Red Sox Friday.
“It never got terrible,” he said. “I had like a bad cold for a few days. But the hardest part was not being able to play baseball. We’re in September, we’re trying to make a push, guys are out their grinding, doing their things and having to sit on a couch for 10 days and missing this week because I have to get ready, it’s tough. But we’re living in a strange time right now, crazy things are happening.”
The Yard Goats adjusted their lineup for Barnes, and he allowed three hits on his first four pitches, though two of the hits were ground balls that his teammates in Boston would likely have caught. Willie Abreu, the No. 3 hitter, doubled to left to drive in a run.
Then Barnes, who threw 13 of 18 pitches for strikes, his fastball hitting 95-97 mph, struck out Michael Toglia and Coco Montes on signature curves. After a wild pitch gave Hartford a second run, he got Willie MacIver on a fly to left.
Barnes, a righthander, picked up his 24th save on Aug. 4, but allowed 12 hits and 10 earned runs over his next 5 2/3 innings before going on the COVID inactive list. He has 78 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings. The Red Sox are in a tight race with the Yankees and Blue Jays for the two AL wild card spots.
“We’re a good team with a ton of experience,” Barnes said, “we had 12 guys over the last three weeks go down with COVID and we were in a playoff position. We’re still in that position.”
Dom Amore can be reached at [email protected]