BOSTON -- It might have been Matt Barnes' finest performance of the season.We remember it as the Chris Sale 17-strikeout game, but Barnes was pretty damn good that May 14 night against the Rockies, too. Summoned to face the heart of the order in relief of Brandon Workman, who had failed to protect a 3-2 lead, Barnes retired all six batters he faced in the ninth and 10th, striking out five. He threw 26 pitches in a 5-4 loss.At that point, Barnes could make a case for most impactful reliever in baseball. He owned a 1.56 ERA in 17.1 innings and .148 batting average against with 33 strikeouts, despite drawing the heart of the order in tight games night after night after night.
Something has happened since then, however. On Monday, needing three outs to preserve a 2-1 win for Sale, Barnes allowed two singles and a double that gave the upstart Rangers a 3-2 lead in the ninth. The Red Sox rallied before falling in extra innings, leaving Barnes to offer a blunt assessment."I just sucked tonight," he said. "Plain and simple."There's been more of that than anyone would like recently. One night after striking out five Rockies, Barnes was summoned into a brutal bases-loaded, no-out situation in relief of Eduardo Rodriguez. All three runners scored, giving Barnes a blown save and beginning a stretch that makes you wonder if the stress of being both the high-leverage guy and the last line of defense has taken a toll.Over his last 11 outings, Barnes owns an 8.00 ERA, with 10 hits and seven walks in nine innings. He has blown two saves and taken a loss while watching his ERA soar to 3.76, and the Red Sox will need to get him right if they want to compete for a playoff berth.
"He hasn't been as sharp, obviously," said manager Alex Cora. "We talked about it a few weeks ago, the way we were using him, using him against the middle of the lineup the whole time. We've been trying to give him a breather here and there, but he knows his job. He was in a situation here, three outs from winning the game, and we didn't complete the job."On Monday, Barnes' curveball failed him. He hung one to Danny Santana that the left fielder lined to center to start the one-out rally, and after Elvis Andrus doubled on a mislocated fastball, Barnes bounced a pair of curveballs to Nomar Mazara before leaving one center-cut that Mazara ripped to left for the go-ahead hit."Santana, I was just trying to throw a backdoor curveball and just left it middle," Barnes said. "A single to the left side. The pitch to Andrus, that was the pitch I was trying to execute. I was trying to throw a fastball up and in on his hands and unfortunately for me, he was able to squeak it down the line and hit a double. Then after that, I made a poor pitch on the 3-1 count. Just have to be smarter than that. Just didn't execute enough pitches."
With the bullpen coming under increased scrutiny -- only the woeful Orioles have allowed more runs in the ninth inning (43) than the Red Sox (36) -- the calls are only going to increase for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to find another arm, preferably one with closing experience.But unless and until Barnes figures out how to regain his mid-May form, it's not even clear a closer will matter.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.