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Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Matt Barnes finds a different way to dominate; Jackie Bradley takes his lumps

05.25.12 at 12:32 pm ET
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Matt Barnes no longer leads the minor leagues in strikeouts. He’s “slipped” all the way to third with 70 strikeouts (though he ranks second among minor league starters in strikeouts per nine innings with 12.4, behind only Red Sox prospect Henry Owens, who has 13.1 punchouts per nine), and on Thursday, he fanned a career-low three batters while getting saddled with his first professional loss, coming up on the wrong end of a 1-0 pitcher’s duel.

Yet in some ways, the fact that Barnes has struck out just eight batters in 12 innings over his last two starts is arguably more interesting than some of the dominating punchout lines that he forged so regularly in his first seven outings of the year. After all, he’s still dominated in his most recent two outings, giving up just one run (0.75 ERA) while striking out eight and walking one.

Barnes has now made four starts in High-A since his promotion from Greenville. After he gave up one run on five hits (two doubles, three singles) while topping out at 98 mph on the stadium gun, he has a 2-1 record and 1.13 ERA along with 28 strikeouts and just two walks in Salem. He has worked exactly six innings in each of his four starts, filling up the strike zone with a relentlessness that belies his relative inexperience. He is second in the minors in ERA with a 0.71 mark, opponents are hitting .161 against him and he’s given up just one homer this year in 50 2/3 innings.

He has been overpowering in his debut, in a fashion that has little precedent in the Red Sox system. And the fact that he was as good as he was on Thursday, even on a day when he didn’t strike out batters, suggests that his abilities are not one dimensional. He is not just reliant upon the swing-and-miss; he is also capable of getting bad contact while working down in the strike zone.

“He got outs last night by location and pitch execution,” Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker wrote in a text message, who praised Barnes for attacking the lower half of the strike zone while also noting that Barnes was able to work the inner half of the plate effectively, while finding the right spots in which to mix in a handful of changeups.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-1 WIN VS. TOLEDO (TIGERS)

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– When the Red Sox signed Ross Ohlendorf at the start of spring training, he represented perhaps their eighth or ninth starting option at a time when the team was preparing for a widespread talent search for the last two spots in the big league rotation. Daniel Bard, Felix Doubront, Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and Andrew Miller were already in the mix for the rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

The landscape is now much different. Silva was released early in camp. Bard and Doubront are in the rotation. Aceves, Padilla and Miller are firmly entrenched in the rotation. Cook and Matsuzaka are both injured.

The net result? Right now, Ohlendorf looks like the top starting depth option in the Red Sox organization, particularly as he gives signs that he is getting better as the season progresses. On Thursday, he was overpowering in six shutout innings. He allowed just three hits (two singles and a double), walked one and struck out a season-high six. It represented the fifth time in nine starts that Ohlendorf has reached his season-high of six innings. His strikeout total was a season high. In his last two starts, he’s allowed two runs in 12 innings (1.50 ERA), striking out 10 and walking three, bringing his season marks for the year to a 4-3 record, 4.07 ERA with 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.4 walks per nine.

The depleted Red Sox rotation suggests that the Sox can ill afford the loss of a starter who is throwing well in the minors and who has a track record of some big league success, having produced a 3.98 ERA in 50 starts with the Pirates in 2009-10. He looks like he has moved beyond his challenging 2011 season, in which he had an 8.15 ERA in nine starts while dealing with shoulder woes.

Ohlendorf is likely in line for one more start before he has the right to opt out of his contract if not added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster. He does have an option left, so the Sox could keep him stashed in Triple-A if they add him to the 40-man; moreover, that contract status means that the 29-year-old could be brought up for a spot start and then sent back down to the minors.

All of that argues in favor of the Sox adding him to the roster by the time June 1 arrives, particularly given the team’s depleted depth and the recent results shown by Ohlendorf.

– After a tear that brought his average up to .283 and his OPS up to .673, Jose Iglesias has gone 3-for-19 (.158) over his last five games, and for the first time since April 28-29, he’s now gone hitless in back-to-back games after following Tuesday’s 0-for-3 (which, in fairness, included a sac fly and a pair of RBI) with an 0-for-4 line on Thursday. For the year, he is now hitting .268 with a .630 OPS.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 8-2 LOSS AT NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

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– Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel had his worst outing of the year, allowing five runs on six hits (four singles, two doubles) with four walks and two strikeouts in just three innings of work. Control was an issue, as he threw just 36 of his 72 pitches for strikes while doubling his previous season high for walks.

In five starts, Pimentel has been mostly impressive in Portland, particularly coming off a 2011 season that was a mess. Even with Thursday’s control issues, his 7.0 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine innings represent a significant improvement over last year, when he had marks of 5.7 and 3.4 before his demotion to High-A Salem.

One red flag on his season to date: Lefties are hammering Pimentel. Righties are hitting just .173/.246/.212/.457 against him, but lefties have an eye-popping line of .442/.489/.535/1.024 against the 22-year-old.

Reynaldo Rodriguez clubbed his ninth homer in May, a new Portland record for the month, as part of a 3-for-4 day in which he also doubled. For the year, the 26-year-old is hitting .256/.346/.551/.898. His 10 homers this year are tied for second in the Eastern League, while his .898 OPS is ninth.

– Outfielder Shannon Wilkerson, who hit .251/.322/.404/.726 while spending all of 2011 in High-A Salem, was one of the few minor leaguers ever to hope to repeat at a level the following season. Wilkerson felt that he’d prefer an assignment to Salem, where he’d get an opportunity to play everyday, rather than moving to Portland, where he would likely be a fourth outfielder subject to inconsistent playing time.

He did end up back in Salem to start the year, and he enjoyed a tremendous start to the year, hitting .329/.367/.457/.824 while going 16-for-16 in stolen base attempts. He ranked fifth in the league in batting average while pacing the Carolina League in steals.

With that performance came a promotion to Portland. The former Division II National Player of the Year went 0-for-4 in his Double-A debut on Thursday.

Bryce Brentz went 0-for-4, and for just the third time in 19 games this month, failed to reach base. His May batting average dipped below .400 (to .382). For the year, he’s now hitting .293/.333/.451/.785.

Juan Carlos Linares left Thursday’s game early due to a minor thigh injury. He is expected to be fine.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 1-0 LOSS VS. WINSTON-SALEM (WHITE SOX)

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– An underappreciated element of Jackie Bradley Jr.‘s game: Taking one for the team. Bradley (surprise) reached base in half of his four plate appearances on Thursday, going 1-for-3 with a hit by pitch. He has now been hit seven times this year, second in the Carolina League. Put another way: If Bradley did not have a single hit this year, on the strength of his HBPs and walks (34) alone, he would have a .218 OBP.

While Bradley’s performance to date (a .366 average, .495 OBP, .563 slugging mark, 1.058 OPS, electrifying center field defense) made him a candidate for promotion to Double-A, the Sox feel no need to rush him given that he is in his first full pro season. It is worth noting that Dustin Pedroia (who started his first full pro season in Double-A) and Jacoby Ellsbury (who reached Portland a couple months into his first full pro season in 2006) played for substantial stretches in the Sox system in the summer after they signed, with Pedroia playing at (and dominating) both Single-A Augusta and High-A Sarasota and Ellsbury tearing up the New York-Penn League for Lowell. Bradley played just 10 games last year after signing minutes before the Aug. 15 deadline.

– Of the four Salem hits, one came from shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is now 11-for-32 (.344) in his last eight games.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-6 LOSS AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES)

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– Right-hander Madison Younginer had one of his best starts of the year, going 5 1/3 innings while allowing two runs on five hits, striking out six (tied for his season high) and walking one. The 21-year-old now has 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings against 3.4 walks per nine.

Blake Swihart matched a season-high with three hits, going 3-for-6. After a challenging first month of pro ball in which he hit .178/.253/.274/.527, Swihart is hitting .288/.328/.407/.735 in May.

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