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Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Drake Britton’s ‘stuff too good to be hit,’ mixed results for Matt Barnes, promise from Michael Almanzar

05.31.12 at 2:37 pm ET
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The Salem Red Sox had a double header in which phenom Matt Barnes was pitching the first game, and so it seemed fair to view left-hander Drake Britton as the undercard. After all, Barnes has been the pitcher who has been all but untouchable in his first tour of pro ball. Britton is the one who went 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA last year at Salem, and then after being sent to the same level to start this year, got off to what seemed like an even worse start, going 0-2 with a 13.86 ERA in his first three outings of the year.

But Britton is amidst an fascinating run, his most successful at least in his two seasons in Salem and perhaps since turning pro. That continued on Wednesday in one of the best games he’s ever thrown in the Sox system.

The left-hander fired six shutout innings (a season high) while striking out seven and walking none. It was his first outing as a pro in which he logged at least six innings without permitting a walk.

Since his first three starts, the 23-year-old has looked like the pitcher who emerged as one of the top handful of Sox prospects in 2010. In his last seven starts, Britton is now 3-3 with a 2.76 ERA, 36 strikeouts, 15 walks and no homers allowed in his last 32 2/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .205 against him over the stretch.

“Phenomenal,” Barnes said of the outing. “His stuff is too good to be hit. He’s got unhittable stuff. When he’s on, he’s not going to be hit at all.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 WIN VS. NORFOLK

(BOX)

Justin Germano improved to 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA by exhibiting his typical impeccable control (four walks, no strikeouts) while allowing two runs in seven innings, though it’s worth noting that both runs permitted by Germano came on solo homers. He has allowed six homers in his last five starts to Triple-A hitters. Still, his willingness to throw strikes (36 strikeouts, 7 walks) and execute makes him a relevant part of the Red Sox’ rotation depth conversation, particularly at a time when Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook have both been working their ways back from injury.

Clayton Mortensen had his best outing since being sent down in mid-May, striking out three and retiring all four batters he faced for his second save of the year.

– Potential call-up Pedro Ciriaco went 1-for-4, while Jose Iglesias missed his fifth straight game due to a stiff lower back, though the Providence Journal reports that he is hoping to play Thursday.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 3-2 WIN, 5-2 LOSS VS. HARRISBURG (NATIONALS)

(GAME 1 BOX, GAME 2 BOX)

Bryce Brentz slammed his fifth homer of May in Game 1, improving his line for the month to .355/.412/.581/.992. His season of extremes — a struggle in April, an outstanding May — has yielded a line of .287/.342/.453/.795, with dramatic movement in the direction of progress in his results.

– Outfielder Juan Carlos Linares extended his hitting streak to seven games with hits in both halves of the doubleheader, going 3-for-7 with his seventh homer. He’s third in the Eastern League in average (.331), fourth in OBP (.413), fifth in slugging (.552) and third in OPS (.965).

– Though Stolmy Pimentel took the Game 2 loss while allowing five runs in six innings, he worked relatively efficiently (84 pitches in a six-inning complete game), shut down Harrisburg save for a five-run rally in the fourth that was jumpstarted in no small part by three straight groundball singles (including one of the infield variety), threw strikes (four strikeouts, one walk) and kept the ball in the park. Indeed, Pimentel has yet to give up a homer in his six starts this year — one of the most significant differences from his performance of a year ago, when he was taken deep 16 times in 102 innings.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-3 WIN, 7-1 WIN VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

(GAME 1 BOX, GAME 2 BOX)

– Struggle is a relative term. For Matt Barnes, it was a different sort of outing. The right-hander, who had gone at least five innings in each of his first nine starts as a pro while allowing two or fewer earned runs, lasted four innings while giving up three runs on six hits (all singles). He walked one and uncorked a pair of wild pitches, but he also struck out eight.

“It was definitely a little bit more of a struggle,” he acknowledged. “But I thought my stuff was actually pretty good.”

Barnes said that he threw just one changeup while focusing on pounding his fastball down in the zone, and he felt he threw both his fastball and curve well. But sometimes, good pitches get hit, and Barnes noted that such a thing took place when Lynchburg’s No. 9 hitter was (Braeden Schlehuber) collected a pair of hits off what he thought were good pitches.

It happens. But for Barnes, not often — and in fact, never before in his first pro season.

Five starts into his tenure with Salem, Barnes has a 1.93 ERA with 36 strikeouts, three walks and just one homer allowed in 28 innings. On the year, while he’s dropped to third in the minors with 78 strikeouts, he leads pro baseball pitchers with at least 40 innings of work with 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Travis Shaw continued his tremendous first pro season, going 3-for-5 with two homers and a pair of walks in the double header. His two homers in the second game of the twinbill (his third and fourth of the year) gave the first baseman his first career multi-homer game. All year, he’s shown an advanced approach and terrific command of the strike zone, leading him to a .340 average, .418 OBP, .543 slugging mark and .961 OPS (all top five marks in the Carolina League). After going deep just once in his first 39 games, he now has three homers in his last five games.

Michael Almanzar was a force in the doubleheader, going 3-for-4 with a double in the first game and 2-for-3 with a walk in the second. For the year, the 21-year-old is now hitting .293/.327/.439/.767, a huge improvement over his .182/.223/.245/.469 line last year. Now a first baseman, he ranks seventh in the Carolina League with 14 doubles, and his 17 extra-base hits to this point (in 165 plate appearances) nearly match the 22 he had in 425 plate appearances last year.

It seemed easy to give up on Almanzar — once the recipient of the biggest international amateur signing bonus the Red Sox had ever given out — after three straight years of struggles in Greenville and Salem. But this year’s progress offers a suggestion that, at 21, there may still be time for the powerful hitter to realize some of his potential as a slugger that convinced the Sox to sign him in the first place.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-3 WIN VS. SAVANNAH (METS)

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– Left-hander Miguel Pena allowed two runs (one earned) in five innings to lower his ERA to 2.06, second lowest in the South Atlantic League. With four strikeouts and one walk on Wednesday, he has a 57:8 ratio for the year.

Keury De La Cruz went 3-for-4. He now has seven games with at least three hits this season with a line of .315/.363/.570/.933.

Garin Cecchini went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer (his fourth of the year) while stealing his 18th base of the season. Since starting slowly in the season’s first week, the 21-year-old is hitting .346/.426/.503/.929 in his last 40 games,

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