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PAWTUCKET â€” If there was rust, Matt Barnes didnâ€™t appear to show any in first start of the season.
Standing on a mound in a â€śjuices followingâ€ť setting for the first time since facing Boston College on Feb. 27 in Fort Myers, Barnes navigated his way through five innings in Pawtucketâ€™s 6-2 conquest of Rochester on Friday night before 7,680 fans. A native of Connecticut, Barnes had been in extended spring training until earlier this week after right shoulder tenderness grounded him for the majority of spring training.
â€śI felt a little out of sync at times, but overall, I was happy with how I felt,â€ť Barnes expressed. â€śIt was nice to be in a competitive environment.â€ť
According to the radar gun at McCoy Stadium, Barnes dialed up his fastball as high as 96 miles per hour with it mainly residing in the 93-94 mph range. The right-hander did mix in several effective curveballs â€“ the pitch is considered to be an evolving one â€“ as part of an 81-pitch, 44-strike performance.
Barnes allowed two runs, though only one was earned. He struck out two and walked two. Though he permitted baserunners in four of the five innings he was out there, the right-hander was able to limit the damage thanks to sticking true to his bread-and-butter pitch: his fastball.
â€śHe has stuff that plays in the zone and heâ€™s aggressive. That fastball, it looked like it was coming out of his hands pretty good. Establishing fastball command and working ahead in the count is what weâ€™re looking for,â€ť said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. â€śNormally when guys are coming off of injuries and setbacks, the command is the last thing to come, but we saw some good signs tonight.â€ť
Boles said that no thought was given to pulling Barnes after the first two Red Wings batters reached in the fifth inning. With runners on second and third, Barnes got a pop up, a fly ball that led to one run and a fly ball for the frameâ€™s final out.
â€śWe want guys to work out of jams. Obviously weâ€™re going to stay within reason of the pitch count, and we did that. He had a few pitches left to go and we gave him a chance to finish that fifth inning,â€ť said Boles. â€śHe sure pulled it through. Heâ€™s not going to be a guy who pitches backwards. You know heâ€™s going to be aggressive with his fastball.â€ť
Added Barnes, â€śI make my living off locating my fastball. Everything just kind of comes off of that.â€ť
Daniel Navaâ€™s first game with the PawSox saw the outfielder go 1-for-2 with a two walks and a stolen base (he was also credited with a caught stealing at home after Garin Cecchini got hung up on the base paths in the seventh inning). Nava struck out on three pitches in first at-bat before lining a single in the fifth inning.
The only thing Nava didnâ€™t do was fix the padding to the â€śCare New Englandâ€ť sign in the outfield after center fielder Corey Brown crashed into it in the ninth inning. Brownâ€™s collision came with two down and resulted in Assistant Field Superintendent Kyle Carney holding up the sign for the contestâ€™s final out.
â€śHe got to hit from the right side and I just thought his approach was solid,â€ť noted Boles about Nava. â€śHeâ€™s a threat at the plate. They pitched him tough and they know who he is.â€ť
Brown belted a solo home run as part of Pawtucketâ€™s five-run uprising in the third inning. Tommy Layne and Drake Britton each tossed two scoreless innings in relief of Barnes.
â€śI thought tonight, we needed a night where we scored some runs and we did that,â€ť said Boles prior to his team departing for a four-game road swing to Lehigh Valley that begins Saturday.
It was a busy day for transactions as the PawSox had to create space on the roster for three players: Nava, Barnes and infielder Brock Holt. To make room for the three aforementioned players, the PawSox placed pitcher Jeremy Kehrt on the seven-day disabled list, transferred pitcher Wilfredo Boscan to the Single-A Lowell roster (he will head to extended spring training in Fort Myers) and sent infielder Heiker Meneses to Double-A Portland.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03