Though the results have been mixed, right-hander Matt Barnes has enjoyed his homecoming as a member of the Portland Sea Dogs.
A native of Bethel, Conn., who grew up a Yankees fan, the Red Sox prospect has pitched in front of family and friends at home games as well as during stops in Reading, New Britain and Trenton.
"It's nice they get to come up and see me," said Barnes, Boston's first-round pick (19th overall) in 2011 out of the University of Connecticut. "Getting back to the Northeast and playing close to home is great."
Barnes, who turned 23 last month, spent his first professional season down the East Coast in Greenville, S.C., and then Salem, Va., going 7-5 with a 2.86 ERA in 25 starts overall and positioning himslef as the top pitching prospect in the Boston organization.
He started slowly this year in his Double-A debut, however, going 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in four April starts before turning things around and putting together a 2-0 record and 2.65 ERA in May. He took a step back in June (1-3, 6.75), his lone win coming at Trenton where he threw five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, allowing only three hits but walking five.
"I just need to improve on consistency from pitch to pitch and every outing as much as I can," he said.
His roller-coaster season continued with his most recent start Saturday, when he allowed five runs -- four earned -- over five innings in a no-decision at New Hampshire, leaving him 4-4 with a 5.19 ERA over 15 starts. He's fanned 83 batters and walked 25 walks in 67 2/3 innings.
"Matt has had an up-and-down season in terms of performance thus far, but has progressed several aspects of his game and shown many positives," according to Ben Crockett, Boston's director of player development. "His fastball command and pitchability have continued to improve, he's increased the usage and advanced the quality of his change, and he's competed very well throughout the season."
What has Barnes noticed about Eastern League hitters after throwing 120 innings last year at lower levels?
"The hitters are a lot more disciplined. You really can't make mistakes," he said. "You have to mix your pitches well. You have to have better command and control of your secondary stuff. You have to throw more consistent strikes."
He's learned a lot from Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper, who pitched in the Major Leagues for the Pirates, Twins and Angels.
"He talks a lot about the mental side of the game," Barnes said.
A bonus for Sea Dogs pitchers is that Rich Gedman, a former big league catcher for the Red Sox, is also on the Portland staff as hitting coach. In some ways, that is like having a second pitching coach, Barnes noted.
"I've been fortunate to be with him the three teams I've been on" in the Red Sox system, Barnes said. "He has a lot of insight. He gives you that secondary perspective."
Next stop, Baltimore: Bowie outfielder Henry Urrutia, who was hitting .365 in 200 at-bats with 16 doubles and 37 RBIs for the Baysox, was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk on June 27. This is the first pro season for Urrutia, a Cuban defector. "We have high hopes for him," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said during Spring Training. He went 3-for-14 in his first four games with the Tides.
One capital to another: The Harrisburg-Washington shuttle continued Saturday as right-hander Taylor Jordan was called up from the Senators to pitch for Washington against the Mets in New York. He joins Nathan Karns and Ian Krol as pitchers to go straight from Harrisburg to Washington this year. Jordan pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs -- three earned -- taking the loss against the Mets. Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart said of Jordan: "He has the magnificent ability to slow the ballgame down and trust his stuff."
Big league atmosphere: There were seven players with Major League experience in the lineup when Bowie beat Harrisburg, 6-4, at home Saturday night, including rehabbing outfielders Bryce Harper (Washington) and Nolan Reimold (Baltimore). The starting pitcher for Bowie was rehabbing Wei-Yin Chen, who allowed four runs in five innings but did not factor in the decision. Reimold was 1-for-3 with a run scored, and Harper was 0-for-3 with a walk and a run. Harper, on the DL with left knee bursitis, ran the bases hard and made a diving attempt on a line-drive single.