A Connecticut native, Matt Barnes had a rough night Sunday in his homecoming in New Britain. And it made him think long and hard about his mound miseries on the bus ride back to Maine.
"I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong, that's what was frustrating. I can usually pick it out, but I couldn't figure it out until after the outing," Barnes said. "I was thinking back on it, I was just replaying it all in my head, but I couldn't put my thumb on it."
Finally, it came to him. Barnes went on a mission this week to correct his mechanics during a bullpen session, and when he took the mound on Friday in Portland , everything clicked. The Red Sox's top pitching prospect allowed one run on five hits over six innings to earn his first Double-A win as the Sea Dogs crushed the New Britain Rock Cats, 12-1.
Barnes, Boston's No. 3 overall prospect, struck out seven and walked one in his third Eastern League start. He threw 57 of 77 pitches for strikes after surrendering seven runs over 3 2/3 innings over a pair of no-decisions.
"I was really happy with [my start]. My first two outings weren't how I drew them up to be," he said. "I was working on it, I got some good work in the bullpen and was able to execute tonight."
Barnes held the visiting Twins affiliate hitless into the third before James Beresford drew a leadoff walk and Jon Gonzalves followed with a one-out single. The 22-year-old right-hander struck out Antoan Richardson and Danny Santana to end the inning, but Daniel Ortiz connected in the fourth on a two-out homer, his third, to cut New Britain's deficit to 4-1.
"It was a good at-bat on his part, 3-2 count, I threw a couple fastballs, I threw a curveball, another fastball ... thought it was a good pitch," Barnes said. "The wind was blowing out. He put decent wood on it, he put a good swing on it."
Barnes (1-0) used a double play to erase a pair of singles in the fifth, then pitched around Josmil Pinto's one-out single in the sixth before handing the ball over to Daniel Bard, who threw two scoreless innings. Pete Ruiz, a 2008 10th-round pick, struck out the side in the ninth to seal Portland's seventh win.
"It's awesome. Our entire bullpen is really good," Barnes said. "We have a lot of guys with experience, and anytime you can hand the ball over to somebody like that, it's going to be awesome, especially a guy like [Bard]. He knows the ropes, he's been in the big leagues; obviously, he knows hows to get guys out. It makes you feel really good."
Barnes said his tweaks on the mound this week opened his eyes to slight adjustments he needed to make on the mound Friday.
"I think my last outing, I was out of sync, moving side to side instead of through the baseball and through the catcher, and that was forcing me to fall off the mound," the University of Connecticut product said. "The command of the fastball wasn't good because of that, I was opening my body. I needed to stay through it more.
"Today was a byproduct of what I was working on in the bullpen, trying to make sure every throw was good, working toward correcting it. When I got on the mound tonight, it just kind of came. It was just there. At times, I would be open and I could really feel it now. I was able to make that correction from pitch to pitch instead of after the game."
Barnes was the No. 19 overall pick in the 2011 Draft and pitched in the All-Star Futures Game last summer in Kansas City. His fastball-curve-changeup combination helped him earn the Big East Conference triple crown in his final season at UConn. Now back in the northeast -- and occasionally in Connecticut -- he's happy where his path has taken him.
"Absolutely, I'm very fortunate that I'm able to be in this area where I can see family and friends, stay in contact with them. It's nice," he said. "It takes a little stress off instead of not seeing anyone for months and months. It makes it a little easier."
Portland gave Barnes a four-run lead in the fourth on homers by J.C. Linares and Tony Thomas and an RBI single by Travis Shaw. Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts went 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a pair of walks to raise his average to .281. The shortstop doubled and scored in the first, walked in the second and fourth, hit a two-run single in the fifth and singled again in the seventh.
Bogaerts has nine hits and three RBIs in his last four games. An MiLB.com All-Star last year, he enjoyed a breakout season when he hit .307 with 20 homers, 81 RBIs and a .373 on-base percentage in 127 games between Class A Advanced Salem and Portland, earning the Red Sox's Minor League Offensive Player of the Year honors.
New Britain starter Blake Martin (0-1) was charged with four runs on five hits and four walks while striking out a pair over four innings.