Matt Barnes threw his 80th pitch to strike out Tyler Henson on Wednesday and headed back to the clubhouse. His first thought after another solid outing? Text Brandon Workman.
"I texted him and I said, 'Thank you,'" Barnes said.
Barnes, throwing his curveball with a new grip he borrowed from his teammate, struck out a season-high 10 batters while allowing one run over six innings for his second win as Double-A Portland beat Reading, 2-1, at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Red Sox's No. 1 pitching prospect said the new grip, which Workman showed him last week after a rough outing for Barnes, gave him a little better break and helped complement his fastball on Wednesday, when he held the Fightin Phils to three hits.
"I was able to command my fastball really well, especially early, and they're very aggressive," said Barnes, a 6-foot-4 right-hander out of UConn. "I wanted to throw strikes and try to force them to get themselves out early."
Barnes was sharp in his first Double-A win on April 19 but fell flat in his last outing on April 26 when he surrendered six runs in 4 2/3 innings at Trenton. Afterward, he talked with Workman, the Red Sox's 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and decided to try out his curveball grip.
"Workman taught me how he threw it, so I toyed around with it, threw it in my bullpen, and it was really good," Barnes said. "I could throw it for strikes and as an out pitch, and that was a big difference, being able to command all three pitches in the zone."
Workman, Boston's No. 3 right-handed prospect, certainly has the credentials -- this season alone, the 2010 second-round pick is 4-0 with a 2.73 ERA with 34 strikeouts and six walks in 29 2/3 innings. He struck out six and lost his bid for a perfect game a night earlier in the seventh inning.
"I think the break is a little sharper, but it allows me to throw it more off my fastball and command it easier," Barnes said. "It's a more consistent break."
And so Barnes, despite being Boston's top Minor League arm, remains a student. He tinkered with his mechanics and shoulder angle earlier this month, which helped him hold New Britain to one run. He said the Sea Dogs staff was comfortable with his newest tweak.
"I didn't tell them until after throwing about three or four in the bullpen after my last start, but it's really worked and I picked it up and it stuck, so they didn't seem to have a problem with it," he said.
On Wednesday, Barnes finished up right at his 80-pitch limit. He struck out the side in his final frame and said he felt strong on the mound.
"I felt great the whole game. I was able to mix up my pitches, and I thought my stamina held up pretty well, which helped," said Barnes, who estimated about three or four of his strikeouts came with the hook.
His only mistake came in the fourth when Reading cleanup man Jim Murphy took Barnes deep to left on a 1-1 pitch for his fourth homer.
"He's got a lot of power. I threw him a first-pitch fastball for a ball, second pitch was a change he swung at, and I tried to come back inside with a fastball, but it caught too much of the plate," Barnes said. "He put a good swing on it, hit the ball well, but I didn't execute 100 percent."
Barnes worked a 1-2-3 first and pitched around a single and a wild pitch in the second before striking out two in the third around a walk and another single. He retired the final seven batters he faced.
Workman, sitting in the seats, kept his eye on his newest student.
"They said it looked good -- they were up there charting it all game," Barnes said.
Barnes, like Workman and fellow right-handers Anthony Ranaudo and Drake Britton, knows the microscope of Red Sox nation remains on the group and their development. His stellar start with Greenville and Salem built up expectations, as he was 7-1 with a 1.11 ERA in his first 13 starts. His last 12 outings, though, caused alarm in Red Sox Nation as Barnes was 0-4 with a 5.55 ERA for the Carolina League affiliate.
"I try not to get caught up in that, I just focus on what I can control, which is going out and pitching well," Barnes said. "And I haven't done that on a consistent basis, but it's a new month, and I'm taking things start to start at this point, trying to take away the positives and trying to improve on the things I didn't do so well."