After the first two games of his pro career, both scoreless five-inning starts, the last thing anyone would expect is for Red Sox prospect Matt Barnes to change. Why would he?
Boston's No. 13 prospect struck out nine over six shutout innings -- extending his career-starting scoreless streak to 16 frames -- in the Class A Greenville Drive's 4-2 victory Wednesday afternoon over the host Lexington Legends.
"I was able to establish my fastball early and my curveball was good again, but the key was my changeup," said Barnes, who fanned two of his final three batters and estimated he threw 65 or 66 total pitches. "I hadn't used it much the last outings, and it's a pitch I'm going to need down the road. I wanted to implement it today to see how hitters were reacting to it."
Barnes (2-0) yielded three hits -- Matt Duffy's single in the second, Justin Gominsky's double in the fourth and Tyler Burnett's single in the fifth -- and plunked one batter, but the 19th overall draftee last June picked off one of the base runners and also induced two double plays.
"Everything," Barnes said, "has been working."
As a result, major success in the Minors is quickly becoming old hat for the former University of Connecticut standout. Barnes, the reigning South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week, struck out nine Lakewood batters over five two-hit, scoreless frames in his pro debut on April 8. He followed that up with five one-hit, scoreless innings and seven K's in a no-decision opposite West Virginia on Friday.
One factor in his success: catcher and Draft classmate Blake Swihart, who has caught the starter's last two outings. Swihart, who is relatively new to full-time catching, was behind the plate for all nine innings and caught a runner attempting to steal to end the second.
"I hadn't thrown back-to-back curveballs all game and I didn't want to go fastball, so I got [Burnett] looking on a curveball, and Swihart stood up and made a great throw," Barnes said of his batterymate, who was selected seven spots after him, at 26th overall, last June. "I live with him on the road and at home, so we spend a lot of time together. He understands what I'm trying to do really well. I haven't seen him do one thing wrong behind the plate."
At the plate, Swihart kick-started the Drive's three-run rally against relievers Nathan Pettus (0-2) and Dayan Diaz in the top of the sixth. Lexington pitchers Jonas Dufek and Pettus had combined for five no-hit innings to match Barnes zero for zero, but Boston's No. 11 prospect started the sixth with a leadoff double to end the no-no and scored three batters later on Henry Ramos' line-drive, two-run single. Keury De La Cruz also produced an RBI single.
Swihart also singled and walked in five plate appearances, raising his batting average to .227 through 11 games.
"He's definitely made strides," Barnes said. "Pro ball is different than high school ball, but he's swinging well, and I'm excited to see where it takes him the rest of this season."
Greenville added its fourth run in the ninth, when David Renfroe lifted a leadoff homer. Renfroe, a right-handed hitting first baseman, now has three longballs in his first 11 games.
Lexington scored twice in the bottom of the ninth against reliever Jason Garcia to nullify a potential shutout: Zachary Johnson singled with two outs and scored on Duffy's two-run dinger.
Garcia, who pitched the game's final three innings, earned his second save.