Matt Barnes Changing Up His Changeup
Throughout most of his first pro season, Salem Sox pitcher Matt Barnes has been untouchable. His numbers are among the best of anyone in minor league baseball, and he has consistently made success look very easy, striking out 81 and only walking eight in his first 60.2 innings pitched, in which he has allowed just seven earned runs. The scary thing for the hitters? He still is finding new ways to become even more dominant.
Barnes entered the Boston Red Sox organization as the 19th overall pick out of UConn in 2011, owner of a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a pair of still developing secondary pitches. His curveball was a tad inconsistent, but still served as a very solid to above average pitch, while his changeup remained a work in progress. After the bumpiest outing of his season on May 30 in Lynchburg, a conversation with a former college teammate provided the foundation for a small change that, in a short time, has already paid dividends.
“I talked to one of my buddies who played for Lynchburg, Nick Ahmed, and I kind of asked him, ‘did any hitters on your team say anything that could possibly help me?’” Barnes explained. “And he told me that one of the guys saw the spin on the changeup as being a two-seam spin and I only threw four-seam fastballs. He said he was able to pick it up really early and able to put a good swing on it. Therein lied the change to the four-seam.”
Barnes had only thrown one changeup in his start against the Hillcats, but the pitch yielded a hit. In the aftermath, the revelation of the opposition’s perceptions could prove invaluable his Barnes’ pursuit of a superior offspeed delivery.
“He came here with the two-seam changeup grip,” said Salem Pitching Coach Kevin Walker. “It’s something he was throwing in Greenville, so we stayed with it. And we weren’t getting much out of it. He wasn’t throwing it much, and the one he threw in Lynchburg was given up for a hit, and he decided not to throw it at all anymore. But he came to me the next day and said ‘I’ve been messing with some grips. I feel more comfortable with the four-seamer. It feels like my fastball.’ And we had a very productive four days of work coming into his start. Especially with his bullpen throwing mostly all changeups and a couple of fastballs here and there just to get a feel. The progress he’s made in five days by using it 13 times and getting four outs with it [on Monday] was outstanding.”
In his first start integrating the new changeup, Barnes dealt six scoreless innings, permitting just four hits, all singles, in Salem’s 10-1 victory over Winston-Salem. If he can continue to gain confidence with his offspeed arsenal, his path through the upper levels of the minors will be a much kinder journey. But at the same time, fans should not expect Barnes to abandon his heater, an advanced pitch that sets him apart from most other minor league hurlers. His fastball, along with his desire to still improve, should be tools that help him on his pathway to Fenway.
“First and foremost, his desire to compete his uncanny,” said Walker. “He loves to go out and compete. Secondly, he pitches with his fastball as good as I’ve ever seen. Really good life, really good leverage, in and out, up and down, in the strike zone, both sides of the plate to lefties and righties. That’s special. Sometimes we lose track that he only has 50 to 60 pro innings. He’s doing great.”
Last night, injured Sox pitcher Pete Ruiz joined me on the broadcast. While perhaps more well known for his unbelievable Tim Kurkjian impersonation, Ruiz was articulate, insightful, and fascinating to listen to over the course of the night as he relentlessly dissected the thought process of a pitcher and applied it to every pitch sequence. It was a pleasure for me to be a part of, and for the listeners’ sake, I hope he’s able to join me again. Most importantly, hopefully Pete’s hip feels better soon so he can get back to tossing perfect frames on the hill.
I enjoyed eight and a half innings with Pete Ruiz and one half of an inning with Tim Kurkjian. All nine innings were awesome radio, a sentiment I’m sure you’ll agree with if you listen to this hilarious audio.
First pitch tonight against the Dash comes your way at 7:05 on NewsTalk 960 AM and FM 107.3 WFIR and online at www.salemsox.com.
Game notes are below… Talk to you soon!
June 6, 2012 7:05 PM Winston-Salem Dash (34-23) vs Salem Red Sox (32-24) Game #57
LewisGale Field Salem, VA Home Game #30
Probable Starters: RHP Jon Bachanov (4-0, 3.49) vs RHP Miguel Celestino (3-2, 3.18)
What We Know: Two games into a pivotal four-game series, the Sox and Dash are back where they started, with Winston ahead by a game and a half with 12 days remaining in the half. Salem has begun the month of June on an offensive tear, hitting .336 in six games. Unfortunately, the Red Sox have gone 3-3 over the past six games, with the three wins coming by a combined 28 runs and the three setbacks coming by a combined eight runs. Salem will host Winston on Wednesday and Thursday before traveling to Potomac for five games in three days, including doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday.
Seeing Double: In a season of unparalleled success, Jackie Bradley, Jr. has found a new way to amaze in the past week. The center-fielder carries an eight-game hitting streak into Wednesday’s action, but perhaps more impressive is the fact that Bradley has doubled at least one in each of his last seven games. In this stretch, Bradley has nine doubles, three more than anyone else in minor league baseball, and he’s batting .536 (15-for-28) in his last seven. On the season, Bradley’s .384 average is third in all of the minors, trailing only Erie’s Nick Castellanos (.408) and Reno’s Jake Elmore (.400). Bradley leads the Carolina League in batting average, on-base percentage, hits, runs, doubles, extra-base hits, walks, and sacrifice flies.
Yet Another Close Call: Lately, Salem has either won big or lost small. In fact, you have to go all the way back to May 1 to find the last time that Salem lost by more than three runs. After falling 9-5 to Wilmington on May 1, the Sox were 12-11 and had been outscored 123-121 on the year. Since then, the Sox are 20-13 and outscoring foes by 59 runs, 167-108. With a +57 run differential, the Sox are tops in the league, with Winston close behind at +55 for the year. The next closest is Carolina at +17. The Sox have gone 16-11 in games decided by two runs or less and 7-2 in games decided by six runs or more. In games decided by 3-5 runs, the Sox have gone 9-10.
Cooling Hot Corner: Michael Almanzar delivered his 22nd RBI on Tuesday with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning, but his 11 game hitting streak came to an end by finishing the game 0-for-3. The 11-game streak is the longest for any Salem Sock this season, and Almanzar hit .452 (19-for-42) in the life of the streak. Still batting .304 on the season, Almanzar is hitting .383 since May 20, second in the Carolina League during this time, with only Jackie Bradley’s .424 average since May 20 being superior.
The Broad Side of the Barnes: With six scoreless innings on Monday, permitting just four hits and one walk, Matt Barnes remained atop all of pro ball with a 0.76 WHIP. His 1.04 is second in all of pro ball, behind only Richmond’s Chris Heston. With 81 strikeouts, he’s tied for fifth in the minors, and with eight walks, he’s the only man in the top 50 in strikeouts who also owns single-digit walks. On the season, Barnes is 5-1 in 11 starts, with just seven earned runs allowed over 60.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting .178 against last year’s 19th overall pick in the first round of the draft.