DUNEDIN, FL - Records are meant to be broken. Just look at the back end of the Dunedin Blue Jays bullpen.
For the third consecutive season the team's closer has re-set the single season record for saves - and Danny Barnes isn't done yet. The unassuming New York native notched his 33rd save last Friday night in a 3-1 victory over the Lakeland Flying Tigers. To do it he mowed down the heart of Lakeland's lineup, striking out the side on 13 pitches.
In 2010 it was Matt Daly who picked up a then-record 31 saves. Last season saw Wes Etheridge earn his 32nd save on July 22nd, and not throw another pitch with the D-Jays the rest of the way. This season, Barnes - a 35th round pick in 2010 - has converted 33 saves in 35 opportunities and may get a few more chances as the D-Jays close out the regular season with seven games in six days.
Coming into this season rewriting history wasn't on the agenda for the 22 year-old Barnes, a thoughtful young man who attended Princeton University before beginning this adventure in professional baseball. He had two main goals for the season and neither involved piling up saves.
"I really wanted to get my off-speed pitches going. I needed to work on those a lot, and they've come a long way from the start of the year. The slider has opened up a lot of the plate for me. I know my fastball does most of the work as far as getting ahead of guys - and I can put them away with it too on some days - but on days when my fastball isn't at its best I can go to the change-up or the slider and still be able to get outs."
His other goal was simple.
"Just to be able to be consistent every day."
Barnes has been the model of consistency in 2012. Through his first 49 appearances, the right-hander has a 1.44 ERA (he has allowed just 8 runs in 50 innings this season), 63 strikeouts, and has held opposing hitters to a .202 batting average. Not a bad season, but it gets better.
Barnes has made 26 appearances since the beginning of June and in that time has allowed just 16 baserunners and one single run. The numbers are simply stunning - 27.1IP, 10H, ER, 6BB, 44K. Not bad for three months work. He is a perfect 17 for 17 in save opportunities, and it's hard to imagine how many saves he might have if not for some nasty weather, and a team that has been playing just above .500 since June 1.
Mother Nature has been none too kind to the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2012. After finishing 2011 as the only team in the FSL to play all 140 scheduled games, the Blue Jays will play a maximum of 132 games this season, and that has certainly taken a small bite out of Barnes's full season saves total.
As for the team, it has been a tale of two seasons. The D-Jays came out of the gates red hot, going 35-18 in April and May, but have come back to earth and gone 39-33 since. Still, Barnes has confidence in his teammates, and takes on a matter of fact tone as he looks ahead to the postseason and a potential championship.
"I honestly think we're the best team, and we have a very good shot to win it. I think we should win it."
Should they find themselves in position to "win it", something this franchise has never done through its first 27 years in the Florida State League, there's little doubt as to who will be on the mound trying to close it out.
His name is Daniel Barnes.
Consider yourself introduced.