Matt Barnes

Red Sox lose reliever Matt Barnes indefinitely with hip injury

Red Sox lose reliever Matt Barnes indefinitely with hip injury

Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes will be out indefinitely as he rests an inflamed left hip.

"We don't want it to hurt anymore," Barnes told reporters before the Red Sox played the Astros on Saturday at Fenway Park. "I don't think that's fair to the team to go out there and to be pitching at anything less myself or the team thinks I'm capable of."

Barnes (5-3, 3.39, 1.200 WHIP) pitched Monday in Atlanta but said the injury has been bothering him for about a week and a half. He had two scoreless outings before being shut down, but in two previous outings, he allowed six runs in 1 1/3 innings. He had a 9.64 ERA in 9 1/3 innings in August.

"When we feel the symptoms aren't there, then we'll see what's next," manager Alex Cora said before the game. An MRI Thursday revealed the inflammation. 

Cora said Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier - who were hit hard in the seventh and eighth innings in a 6-3 loss to Houston on Friday - and Heath Hembree would handle the late innings ahead of closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, with matchups determining a lot of their usage. 

"They do feel that with rest, he’s going to feel better, and he’s going to be feeling better in the long run," Cora said. "I guess we’ll stay with that as of now and see how he reacts to it and then we’ll see if we have to do something else."

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Drellich: How to be optimistic about the Red Sox bullpen

Drellich: How to be optimistic about the Red Sox bullpen

BOSTON — When the Red Sox and Brian Johnson struggled against the White Sox on Sunday, Alex Cora turned to the September call-ups, a wave of arms who have spent most of their time with Triple-A Pawtucket. Monday afternoon instead brought the regulars out of the ‘pen — inlcluding an appearance from possibly every member of their eventual postseason bullpen.

Nate Eovaldi, the starter in Monday’s 8-2 victory over the Braves, seems to be destined for a relief role. After he lasted 3 1/3 innings, Brandon Workman, Steven Wright, Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes and Craig Kimbrel pieced together the rest.

One game doesn’t really swing the reality: the Sox shouldhave, upgraded, the‘pen

But enough about that little matter for the time being. This is the group the Sox have, and if you’re looking for reasons to believe this group can succeed, and signs to watch for as September rolls on, read on.

Hembree with men on

Hembree might indeed have the low pulse and calm state of mind to handle the toughest situations: those with inherited runners. Usually, though, a pitcher is good in those situations because of his underlying ability, more than anything else.

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Cora has turned to Hembree in jams more than anyone else. When Hembree entered in the seventh inning Monday, there were runners on the corners and two down. Those were Hembree’s team-leading 32nd and 33rd inherited runners, a dozen more now than the next closest, Joe Kelly.

Hembree got Ozzie Albies swinging on an elevated fastball, a well-executed pitch and another successful strand job. Only seven runners he’s been handed, or about 21 percent, have come around.

Further proof he can handle the big moment right? Yes, but that’s probably not owed to some ability to handle a jam better than others that’s differentiated from the reason he’s good in any situation.

See the following numbers (entering the day):

Barnes has emerged

Overall, Barnes is a lot better than most people realize, despite his August struggles. So much so that if you compare his numbers below — he’s Pitcher A — to Craig Kimbrel, Pitcher B, you may be shocked to see how similar they are. 

Barnes is averaging roughly 2 mph better on his fastball in 2018 than he did a year ago. That’s no small jump. He’s also getting a ton more whiffs on his curveball, at roughly 45 percent. 

Kelly's slow stuff

The batting average against Kelly's curveball in 2017 was .429. It's .250 this year, per Brooks. His changeup is also a better-established force. 

Kimbrel still strikes out a ton

Even as Kimbrel goes through a down year, arguably the worst of his career, he still can work out of jams created by his erratic command. He’s still incredibly difficult to make contact against. His swing and miss percentage is 40.2 percent, highest on the team. (Barnes is second at 36.9, ahead of Chris Sale at 35.)

Kimbrel also leads the Sox in fewest percentage of swings that result in balls in play, 23.6 percent, lesser than Sale.

Brasier doesn’t mess around

The wild card, the X-factor, the high-leverage Hail Mary: Ryan Brasier. His 30.8 swing-and-miss percentage is better than all but five Sox pitchers: Kimbrel, Barnes, Sale, Hembree and… William Cuevas. 

But best of all? Brasier leads the Red Sox with a 70.8 percent first-pitch strike percentage. Second is Sale, at 68.2.

Thornburg can handle lefties

It’s a very small sample size, but Tyler Thornburg has done better against lefties this year, with a .742 OPS allowed, compared to righties, a .905 OPS allowed. In his career, Thornburg has shown an ability to neutralize hitters from both sides of the plate. If he can find his footing against righties, he can be a weapon that makes it easier not to carry a southpaw in the playoff bullpen. (Thornburg is the only one in this group who did not pitch on Monday.)

Steven Wright 

His knuckleball is a bat out of hell. 

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Drellich: Why Cora's bullpen plan didn't make sense Monday

Drellich: Why Cora's bullpen plan didn't make sense Monday

BOSTON -- A huge division lead is a strange bird to navigate, rookie skipper or otherwise. Alex Cora's bullpen management seemed caught in between on Monday night.

There are two basic forces at play for a manager in any game, be it in April or August: play to win that contest, or play for the future.

In the Sox’ position as the best team in baseball, the future has naturally started to garner attention, both in terms of player rest as well a new wrinkle tied to the calendar: information for the playoff roster. (We’re mainly talking about the pitching staff.) 

That’s why Drew Pomeranz last week, on Wednesday, was left out to dry in a winnable game in Philadelphia, while Matt Barnes and Tyler Thornburg were held out because of workload concerns. The Sox lost that day, but there were understandable goals achieved.

On Monday night with Terry Francona across the way, Cora’s balancing fell short. Not because the Sox lost, but because the moves he made didn’t really fit either goal.

Warning: Nitty gritty details follow. Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Indians is ultimately a blip on the radar. The Sox' first consecutive losses since July were overdue. Cora’s still a top Manager of the Year candidate.

Everything ties back to a two-run home run Rick Porcello allowed to No. 9 hitter Greg Allen in the seventh inning, on Porcello’s 100th pitch. That shot broke a 3-3 tie and scored what proved the decisive runs for Cleveland.

“Not trying to take anything away from him but, I think even I could’ve hit that one pretty hard,” Porcello said. “It was not a good pitch, and it came at the worst possible time.”

There was a reliever, Barnes, warm in the ‘pen at the time of the homer. But before we get to Barnes, let’s start here: How was either the future or the present helped by leaving Porcello in?

He does not need the work. Arguably, the opposite. The righty, a quietly strong presence all year, has thrown the 15th-most pitches in the majors this season. From the beginning of 2015 through the present, he ranks fifth in regular-season pitches thrown. 

In short, his workload has been huge.

Before the game, Cora was asked about Chris Sale’s health. The manager spoke of the importance of keeping guys fresh generally.

“We’ll make sure he’s okay,” Cora said. “And this is not only for Chris, but for the whole pitching staff. We want them to be trending up in September. I don’t want them to be trending down. Obviously September 1 is a huge day for everybody here [when rosters expand and help arrives].

"I don’t want them to go mid-September and the stuff is trending down. It should be the other way around.”

Porcello had already allowed two home runs Monday night. He’s allowed more long balls overall lately: 12 in his last 9 starts, after surrendering 10 in his first 17.

The reason for the dingers is unclear. But, at the least, a little extra rest couldn’t hurt.

“I can’t tell you in particular why there are more home runs being hit off me now than in the past,” said Porcello, who led the majors in homers allowed last year. “I think definitely part of it is missed location. That’s the first one you look at. Give guys the opportunity to put the barrel to the ball, usually you’re pitching in the middle of the zone. That’s the biggest factor. 

“You have to continue to make adjustments. There are so many things guys have now as far as iPads in the dugout, scouting reports, percentages on pitches thrown, what you like to throw.”

We can break down Porcello’s adjustments another time. After the game, Cora’s explanation for leaving Porcello in was simple.

“We thought the matchup was good,” Cora said. “Man at first, and with the stuff he was throwing, we felt comfortable with it. He just hung a changeup and we paid the price."

Allen had already lined out twice off Porcello, one time with an exit velocity of 96 mph. But either way, letting a pitcher go a third time through the order is almost always playing with fire

Now, it's notable that the Red Sox have had more success facing hitters a third time this year than any other team, with the lowest opponents’ average and slugging percentage entering Monday. That could be luck, that could be great pitching, or both. But past success does not eliminate present risk.

Barnes is the best reliever the Sox have behind Craig Kimbrel. Barnes was the fresh arm, and definitely the better choice to get the Sox out of the inning with a tie.

If winning was what mattered most.

Cora appeared to assume that Allen likely would only reach via a single or walk, not an extra-base hit. The next batter after Allen was Francisco Lindor, an MVP candidate and Cleveland's leadoff man.

“If [Allen] gets on, single, walk, whatever, Barnesy was in the game for Francisco because of the fastball up, breaking ball [combination], and obviously he faced him three times already,” Cora said. “So that was that.”

But let's say Allen didn't homer. A double could have put the Indians ahead as well. And at that point, what would the logic be in having Barnes warmed up? To keep the deficit from growing?

That would have made more sense than not using Barnes at all, which is what happened. Porcello gave up the homer, stayed in for Lindor, got out of the inning, and Barnes never pitched.

However, Barnes continued to warm as the Sox batted in the bottom of the seventh, joined by Thornburg. The idea, it seemed, was to use Barnes in the top of the eighth if the Sox took the lead or tied the score.

Warming Barnes and Thornburg, the double-barrel action with a deficit, suggested Cora really wanted to win Monday's game. Odd, though: Neither Barnes nor Thornburg could pitch in Philadelphia on Wednesday, and now they can both warm while trailing? If that’s how strongly Cora felt, Barnes should’ve had the seventh.

The future can't be what was driving Cora's thought process, because then he wouldn't have warmed up both Thornburg and Barnes that way with three more games remaining between these teams in as many days. The Sox are in a stretch where they play 10 straight games without an off-day. Barnes hasn't been short of work recently. He threw 22 pitches on Sunday against the Rays and 15 against them Friday.

Information wasn't the motivating factor, either. If it were, Barnes never warms. Thornburg is given the seventh-inning jam in relief of Porcello.

The Sox know what they have in Barnes: An improved, late-inning force. Thornburg, though, is still working his way back from a long injury recovery. Using Thornburg in a jam in a 3-3 game in the seventh could have been a worthwhile test.

Instead, Barnes and Thornburg will be more limited the rest of the series. Their usage (and non-usage) was not tailored to either the present or the future. Neither was the choice to let Porcello finish off the seventh.

But hey, at least Pomeranz threw a 1-2-3 ninth.

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