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Barnes battles for seven shutout frames
Red Sox No. 3 prospect overcomes lackluster fastball, fans 10
07/20/2013 10:44 PM ET
Matt Barnes is averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Matt Barnes is averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

Matt Barnes might've been the only man in America who had trouble finding the heat Saturday.

The Red Sox's No. 3 prospect went through his pre-start bullpen routine and came out feeling his fastball was a little flat. He adjusted accordingly early in his outing against Reading and eventually found his familiar heat while logging a season-high seven scoreless innings in Portland's 5-1 win.

The victory snapped the Sea Dogs' eight-game losing streak as Barnes (5-6) became the first Portland starter to earn a win since July 3.

The scoreless outing was Barnes' longest since he hurled a seven-inning shutout on June 9, 2012 with Class A Advanced Salem. He allowed three five hits and three walks while striking out five in that contest.

Barnes was even better Saturday. He tied a season high with 10 strikeouts, two shy of the career high he established on May 5, 2012, also with Salem. He also held the Fightin Phils to three hits and three walks.

Despite the results, Barnes -- selected 18th overall in the 2011 Draft -- entered the game feeling like he lacked his best fastball. He can run his heater into the mid- to high-90s range, but without that smoke at his disposal, placed extra focus on commanding the fastball and mixing his curveball and changeup.

"I don't know what my velocity was tonight," the University of Connecticut product said. "In terms of how I felt, especially early in the game ... I didn't feel like I had the same life on it coming out. I was more trying to work both sides and locate."

Barnes allowed the leadoff man to reach in each of the first three innings but escaped unscathed. He induced a double play in the second and struck out four over those opening three frames.

While he may have felt like he lacked velocity, the command on Barnes' fastball was strong and both his curve and change were on point. He said he's built confidence of late with the curve as the pitch has become more consistent and easier to control.

The big difference was the changeup, which Barnes threw more often than he had in past outings. Of his 95 pitches, he estimated he threw between 10-15 each of the curve and change.

"Going back and looking at past outings, I noticed guys kept fouling off the fastballs and had good timing with it," Barnes said. "I went into tonight's game with the expectation of throwing more changeups."

The fastball command and three-pitch mix worked Barnes into the middle of the game, and once his arm loosened and the arm strength returned, the 23-year-old right-hander took off. He struck out four batters while facing the minimum in the fourth and fifth innings, then recorded a strikeout and a double play in the sixth.

In the seventh, he got two quick outs before Sebastian Valle grounded a single through the left side. Barnes fanned Anthony Hewitt a batter later to complete his outing.

MLB.com's No. 33 overall prospect said Saturday wasn't the first time he worked without his best fastball. He felt similarly in many of his starts late last season and on occasion in the first half of 2013. Like many young pitchers, he's learning to succeed even when he lacks his best stuff.

"I was just able to be efficient tonight," Barnes said. "They're a very aggressive team and they'll swing early in the count, really trying to put the ball in play. I was able to get ahead of guys and able to finish them off a little more efficiently than I had in some of my previous outings. "

The outing also was Barnes' best since suffering a right wrist contusion on July 6. He was struck by a line drive and did not return to the mound until July 14. The next morning, he said, the wrist "swelled up and bruised pretty well," but after a few days of icing and not throwing, he was able to resume baseball activities.

Barnes faced Binghamton on July 14 and felt 100 percent while allowing two runs - one earned - on three hits over three innings.

Reading's Austin Wright (3-5) dueled Barnes into the sixth, when Derrik Gibson led off with his second homer of the season and Red Sox No. 15 prospect Christian Vazquez singled in a run to make it 2-0. Gibson also walked and scored in the Sea Dogs' three-run seventh.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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