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Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes’ quest for efficiency; Joe Gunkel, strikeout machine

06.03.14 at 11:44 am ET
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Matt Barnes matched a season high with six strikeouts in six innings. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes matched a season high with six strikeouts in six innings. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS AT NORFOLK (ORIOLES)

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– Right-hander Matt Barnes bounced back after a pair of rough starts (12 earned runs in 7 1/3 combined innings) to hold his opponents to three runs (two earned) in six innings. Though he gave up eight hits, seven were singles (with one double) and, for the first time this year, he didn’t walk a batter. He also matched his season high with six strikeouts, continuing a recent resurgence of familiar strikeout totals — after he opened the year with 15 strikeouts in 23 innings (5.9 per nine) in his first four starts, he’s had 10.8 punchouts per nine innings in his last four outings.

That uptick reflects the fact that Barnes has been rebuilding arm strength gradually after being shut down in spring training due to shoulder tenderness. Barnes suggests that he still hasn’t seen his arm strength come all the way back, but even as he works to regain his peak velocity, he’s assumed a more efficient, attacking mentality that has allowed him to work deeper into games. (He has pitched six or more innings in three of his eight starts; last year, he lasted at least six innings in just six of 25 starts.)

His strikeout rate is down to 8.1 per nine innings from 11.3 per nine last year, yet Barnes senses progress in his overall ability to pitch that will serve him well as he tries to position himself to help in the big leagues.

“We’re trying to go deeper into games. Last year, the first probably 10 starts, 15 starts, I was not the most efficient pitcher in the world. We joked about me having three times as many innings through five starts as I did last year,” Barnes said recently. “I’m feeling more comfortable with the secondary pitches than I was at this point last year. I think I have a better understanding of how to use them within counts to create some weak contact.

“Strikeouts are just kind of a fancy number now. The thing you need to do as a starting pitcher — and John Farrell and Juan Nieves stressed this for me in spring training — they said, starting pitcher, we need you guys to get 180-200 innings. That’s what you have to do to become a front-of-the-rotation, big-time guy that we can count on in the big leagues. Even though I haven’t necessarily changed a whole lot, it’s something I’m aware of and trying to do in game situations.”

Christian Vazquez reached base twice for the fourth straight game, going 1-for-3 with a double and getting hit by a pitch. The catcher now has an eight-game hitting streak during which he’s hitting .355 with two doubles (though with just one walk and seven strikeouts).

Though he sustained his offensive success, it was a difficult day for Vazquez behind the plate. He committed a throwing error on a bunt and had a pair of passed balls (his third and fourth of the year), a reminder that for all his defensive gifts, there are times (as evidenced by the passed balls) when Vazquez becomes overeager to make a game-changing play behind the plate, and in the process, commits a miscue.

However, that trait is not uncommon in the minors for game-changing defenders. Yadier Molina, for instance, averaged 12.8 passed balls per 100 minor league games. Vazquez has averaged 16.0 passed balls per 100 games behind the plate, though it’s worth noting that his total has been at least somewhat inflated by work with knuckleballers.

– For the first time since his promotion to Pawtucket, Travis Shaw did not reach base, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He did, however, drive in the lone PawSox run with a sac fly. He’s hitting .241/.303/.448 in his first eight Triple-A games.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: OFF DAY

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS AT POTOMAC (NATIONALS)

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– In just his second game of the season after having a very promising spring training cut short by a broken hamate, shortstop Mike Miller went 3-for-4 and drove in three of Salem’s four runs on the evening. The 24-year-old, who was a ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has missed time with injuries, but hit .356/.442/.489 in 15 games with single-A Greenville last season. He is 4-for-5 (all singles) so far on the year.

Pat Light was solid through six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits while fanning three. For the fourth time this season and the second time since earning a promotion to Salem, Light didn’t walk a batter in his outing. The strikeout numbers have dropped considerably for the righty, who had fanned an average of nine per nine innings with the Drive in 2013 and had increased that number slightly in Single-A this season. So far with Salem, he hasn’t fanned more than four in any outing. He’s posted a 4.74 ERA in 38 innings since the promotion.

– Reliever Dayan Diaz had gone 10 1/3 innings since allowing an earned run, but that streak was broken on Monday when the right-hander gave up three runs (though just one was earned; Salem committed two errors in the ninth inning with a balk from the pitcher thrown into the mix). The 25-year-old gave up two hits and three costly walks. Overall Diaz has been effective for Salem, allowing just four earned runs in 22 1/3 innings of work.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-3 WIN VS. LEXINGTON (ROYALS)

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– Right-hander Joe Gunkel earned his second victory of the season in his third start with six strong innings, allowing just one run on five hits. Even more noteworthy is the fact that he fanned seven without walking anyone (though he did hit a batter). Such has been the case all season for the 22-year-old, who is averaging almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings while walking around one and a half batters per nine. He was also able to keep the ball on the ground, getting seven groundouts compared to just one fly out. The one thing that Gunkel left to be desired was controlling the running game; he allowed three of the five baserunners he put on to successfully swipe second.

In 39 innings of work split between the bullpen and the rotation, the 22-year-old has compiled a 2.31 ERA and 0.744 WHIP in his first year with the Drive, marks that earned him a spot in the South Atlantic League All-Star game.

– Gunkel was one of four Drive players named to the South Atlantic League All-Star game. Joining him are infielders Jantzen Witte, a 24-year-old first baseman; Carlos Asuaje, a 22-year-old infielder; and 23-year-old catcher Jake Romanski.

– Second baseman Wendell Rijo went 2-for-4 (both singles) and struck out while scoring a run on the evening. The 18-year-old has held his own in a league in which the average player is more than three years older than him, posting a .370 OBP in his 44 games. Rijo has shown little power to date, and has just one extra-base hit in his last 48 plate appearances. Though he’s been slumping as of late, batting just .159/.221/.238 with just four walks in his last 17 games, Rijo has reached base in eight of his last 21 plate appearances.

- Center fielder and leadoff man Forrestt Allday continues to get on base a ton, going 2-for-4 with two doubles while driving in a run. The 2013 eighth-rounder has gone 9-for-his-last-21 with four extra-base hits (all doubles) and three walks. He’s been crushing left-handers, batting .400/.500/.600 in 32 plate appearances against southpaws (one of his doubles on Monday night was off of a left-handed starter) while putting up a still-decent line against righties (.250/.364/.321). While Allday hasn’t shown home run power, he still can hit for the the occasional extra bases, with nine doubles in his 99 plate appearances and a .407 slugging mark, a notable jump from his .319 mark in 2013 with Lowell.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 10-8 WIN VS. DSL METS

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– Third baseman Rafael Devers followed his dazzling debut by going 1-for-3 with a triple and two walks. The 17-year-old also committed an error at third base. For more on why Devers might be the Red Sox’ top power hitting prospect in the minors, click here.

– Center fielder Luis Alexander Basabe, 17, went 2-for-4 with a double, triple and walk. He now has two triples in as many games this year. Basabe showed interesting but (unsurprisingly) raw tools as a 16-year-old in the DSL last year, hitting .225 with a .385 OBP, .321 slugging mark and 18 steals in 60 games.

– Catcher Roldani Baldwin, an 18-year-old from the Dominican, went 4-for-5 with a double while driving in five in his second pro game. He’s 6-for-8 with a double and triple thus far.

Read More: forrestt allday, joe gunkel, matt barnes, roldani baldwin
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