For the first time this year, Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes strung together consecutive quality outings. But no matter what the final score is, the first-rounder knows the hard work can never stop.
Boston's No. 3 prospect scattered five hits over six scoreless innings in the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs' 4-3 win over the visiting Reading Fightin Phils on Monday.
"When you have your stuff, you're working to keep it. When you don't have your stuff, you're working to find it. You're always working on something," said Barnes, who struck out four batters and issued one walk.
"I've learned some things about how to more appropriately pitch at Double-A in my first month here, but it's always a work in progress."
Barnes (3-1) retired six of the first seven batters he faced, but he allowed runners to reach base in each of the next four frames.
The closest the Phils came to scoring against the Connecticut product came in the fourth inning when Jim Murphy led off with a walk and Sebastian Valle doubled to center field. But Shannon Wilkerson hit cutoff man Heiker Menese, who relayed the ball to catcher Christian Vazquez in time to apply the tag.
"That was a huge play in the game," said Barnes, selected 19th overall in the 2011 Draft. "[Tony] Thomas had put us up, 1-0, in the second inning and they had a man on first with two outs. I threw Valle a 1-0 fastball and missed my spot and he hit it off the wall, but Wilkerson got it in to Menese and he made a heck of a throw to Vazquez to tag the guy out at home.
"Tonight was one of those where my stuff wasn't exceptional, but I found a way to get the 'W' and grind it out ... Those are the starts that make you a better pitcher."
The 22-year-old will be the first to admit he has not had his stuff too many times this year, but he recognizes his first trip through the Eastern League is a learning experience. As long as he improves in the long run, he's content to take his lumps and celebrate his successes.
MLB.com's No. 36 prospect allowed seven runs over 3 1/3 innings in his first two starts, but he bounced back to limit New Britain to one run over six innings on April 19.
Barnes then labored through his fourth start on the road in Trenton, surrendering six runs on 11 hits -- both season lows -- over 4 2/3 frames, before responding with a 10-strikeout effort in Reading last Wednesday.
In his past two outings -- both against the Fightin Phils -- Barnes has yielded one run on six hits and three walks while striking out 14 batters over 12 innings.
"I didn't strike out quite as many tonight and the command wasn't as good on all of my pitches, but that happens from time to time," said Barnes, who throws a fastball, a curveball and a changeup. "I won't have the best stuff every time out. Obviously the first few starts were not how I wanted them to be, but I've made progress with my curveball and my secondary pitches.
"When I had to make pitches in those outings, I wasn't able to make them. Tonight, when I had a man on third and a 2-2 count, I was able to make my pitch and throw a curveball and get the ground ball."
Daniel Bard worked around two hits and a walk in the seventh and Keith Couch allowed three runs -- one earned -- on five hits over 1 2/3 frames. Brock Huntzinger retired the one batter he faced to pick up his seventh save of the year.
Reading starter Greg Smith (0-1) surrendered one run on one hit and two walks over five innings in a losing effort. He threw 38 of 66 pitches for strikes and struck out four batters.