|As he arrives on big stage of All-Star Futures Game, Matt Barnes driven by first taste of failure||07.09.12 at 8:34 am ET|
KANSAS CITY — Matt Barnes earned his spot in the All-Star Futures Game. For most of 2012, he’s been one of the most dominant pitchers in all of minor league baseball. In his first 13 starts of his professional career, the Red Sox’ 2011 first-round selection (No. 19 overall) was among the minor league leaders in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings while also pacing all of minor league baseball in both ERA (0.99) and WHIP.
But in his final three starts preceding his trip to Kansas City for the prospect showcase event, he struggled. He gave up 14 runs (15.12 ERA), walked five and struck out six in 8 1/3 innings. That is almost double the eight runs he’d allowed in his previous 13 starts combined.
Yet the pitcher tried to take a broader view of his mound difficulties.
“I feel great. My body feels great. It’s one of those things where, as a pitcher, you’re going to hit humps. As much as everybody would like to dominate every start, give up no runs and go seven scoreless, it’s just not practical,” Barnes said before he had a two-pitch, two-out appearance to close out the 17-5 victory for the US Team in the Futures Game. “You’re going to lose a feel for a couple pitches here and there, lose your command, but those are the things that will make you grow and make you a better player. If all you have is dominant outings, you never have that taste of failure to give you that extra drive to say, you know what? This has to stop. I need to work harder, put a little more time in to end this bad streak.”
Barnes specifically cited struggles with his fastball command and the absence of feel for his curveball — something that he said he’s been struggling with for about a month — as the culprits in his first period of professional adversity. He did suggest that he continues to enjoy a growing sense of confidence in his changeup, a pitch that he’d used only rarely while at UConn but that has shown the makings of being an average to above-average offering for him as a professional.
Though amidst a period in which he’s been challenged as a professional for the first time, the opportunity to pitch in the big league setting of Kauffman Stadium for the Futures Game — while sitting in a bullpen comprised of a dazzling ensemble of the top pitching talent in the minors — reinforced the idea that the overall shape of Barnes’ first minor league season has been little short of spectacular. He’s 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 81 combined innings between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem this year, marks that earned him a spot in the Futures Game and that scream of prospect status for a pitcher who has shown one of the top fastballs (a 93-95 mph offering that has registered as high as 98 mph this year) in the minors this year.
“He throws pretty hard. If he gets good secondary pitches he’ll be lights out,” said Salem teammate Xander Bogaerts. “I think he can be one of the ace pitchers at the major-league level.”
That notion was reinforced by the opportunity to pitch in Kansas City. The 22-year-old was elated at the opportunity to take part in it.
“It’s a great honor to be asked to play in this game,” he said. “Kind of getting the feel for what it’s like to be a big leaguer.”
Of course, that ultimate goal is something that Barnes is striving to achieve as soon as possible. That being the case, he said that he would love to reach Double-A Portland before the end of the year, even as he is trying to avoid short-changing his time in Salem by pushing the fast-forward button.
“Obviously I want to move up. If I had a chance, I’d want them to put me in the big leagues this year,” said Barnes. “Right now, I go where I go when I go. I give 100 percent effort, focusing on the team I’m with. If I didn’t, I’d be doing an injustice to myself and the team I’m with.”
And so, for now, that means learning to deal with his first taste of professional adversity, a challenge that Barnes recognizes as an important part of advancing his career.
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