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PawSox pitcher Barnes has perfect example to follow in Ranaudo

July 6, 2014

Matt Barnes. Photo by Jillian Souza

PAWTUCKET – There was a time when the slightest mention of Anthony Ranaudo’s injury-marred 2012 campaign would prompt the same kind of reaction Brad Pitt had in the film “Fight Club.”

Paraphrasing the 1999 move – “We don’t talk about it.”

“Looking back it kind of stinks thinking that I lost a full year of development, but I’ve put it behind me,” said Raunado about his aforementioned trying season while sitting in the PawSox dugout recently.

Ranaudo posted some grizzly numbers in 2012. In nine starts for Double-A Portland, he went 1-3 with a 6.69 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 27 walks in 37 2/3 innings. Positives were at a premium, with the statistics not even coming close to matching up with a right-handed pitcher the Red Sox selected with the 39th overall selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Beneath the woeful results lurked a highly-touted prospect who was doing everything humanly possible to get up to speed following a groin injury that washed away Ranaudo’s first month-and-a-half of 2012. By early July, the then-22-year-old was shut down for the season with a shoulder injury that did not require surgery, though the Red Sox were not about to have one of their top minor-league pitchers compound matters by putting the prized wing at further risk.

“I was one start away from breaking spring training, and then I hurt my groin and didn’t pitch until May 15,” Ranaudo recalled. “I felt good for two or three starts and then something in my shoulder started bugging me. I tried push through it because I had missed a lot of time already, but looking back in the big picture, I think it made it worse.”

Just like that, all the grand plans that Ranaudo had envisioned in his mind going into 2012, most notably a potential midseason summons to Triple-A Pawtucket, would have to be put off to a later time.
“Prior to getting hurt, I thought I had turned the page from 2011 coming into my second year of professional baseball in 2012. I was really excited to be starting the year at the Double-A level and felt good about the way I was throwing the ball,” Ranaudo said. “When I got hurt, it was ‘I have to get back.’ I got ahead of myself and thought where I would be at the end of the season.

“I definitely rushed some things,” he continued.

Development-wise, Ranaudo feels that he’s in a good place. Next week, he along with catcher Christian Vazquez will represent the PawSox at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Durham, N.C. It marks the second straight year that the 24-year-old has been busy during baseball’s annual in-season vacation. Last year he pitched in both the MLB Futures Game and Eastern League All-Star tilt.

Given everything that has transpired in his burgeoning professional career, Ranaudo seems like a logical candidate to help Matt Barnes deal with the frustration that comes with having your season delayed at the onset due to injury.

Like Ranaudo, the Red Sox have plenty invested in Barnes, drafted with the 19th selection out of UConn in 2011. Like Ranaudo in 2012, Barnes got behind the 8-ball in spring training after shoulder discomfort was detected. After beginning 2014 on the disabled list, Barnes, 24, made his season debut on April 24.

In keeping with the belief that all roads lead to Rome, Barnes has delivered less-than-prospect-worthy stats, perhaps the result of attempting to make up for lost time a la Ranaudo in 2012. After averaging over a strikeout an inning in his first two pro seasons, the Connecticut native has whiffed just 51 in 65 innings.

Barnes insists that he feels “fantastic right now” and Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles backed that up by saying the ball came out of his hand clean during last Wednesday’s start against Rochester. Still, there’s no denying that something is amiss – Barnes was lifted after getting roughed up for four runs on six hits in 3.1 innings.

“I wasn’t particularly happy after that at all,” Barnes said. “I felt kind of out of sync and felt that I didn’t have much control over anything and clearly it showed.”

Here are some other notable numbers as Barnes preps for Monday’s mound assignment in Columbus. He’s thrown 100 or more pitches in just one of his 12 starts and has logged more than five innings on four occasions. If the season ended today, Barnes would take into the offseason a career-worst 4.85 ERA.

Sometimes, Ranaudo sits in the stands and charts when Barnes is on the mound. Last Wednesday, he was in the McCoy Stadium dugout as he watched his good friend labor. The following day, the two chatted with Ranaudo drawing on his own past dealings in the face of adversity in an effort to lift the spirits of his Pawtucket rotation mate.

“I gave him some tips about body language and timing that maybe he couldn’t see or feel on the mound. We also talked about him being a little more aggressive,” Ranaudo said. “Being a pitcher and his friend, I see him maybe lose confidence every now and again. I told him that his past four starts has featured some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen him throw. He necessarily hasn’t had the results, but there are little things that go into it like pitching with confidence and conviction and knowing that your stuff is so much better than the other guy. Even when you don’t have your best, tell yourself that you do. The way you act, the other team sees that.

“Everyone goes through a rough patch. It’s how you go through it, handle it and come out of it on the other side,” Ranaudo delved further. “This is what teammates and friends are for. I had guys there for me when I was going through tough times and I’m there to help Matt right now. He’s a younger brother to myself, Drake (Britton) and (Brandon) Workman. We’ve all come up together and Matt is one year younger than us, so we like to give him a hard time and mess around. At the same time, we all care for each other and I want him to be successful.”

Ranaudo has preached the importance of time being on Barnes’ side as far as establishing a pattern of consistency that carries him to the end of the season. Keeping in mind the bigger picture, Barnes could end up resembling Ranaudo’s career trajectory when looking back at a season to where he has been forced to grit his teeth much too often for his liking.

“Anthony shoots it to me straight. Sometimes he gives you news that you don’t want to hear, but it’s what you need to hear,” Barnes said. “He’s talked about taking this learning experience and carrying it over to my next start and hopefully finishing strong so I can carry that over into next year.”

Having a teammate who’s been there, done that and is comfortable enough in his own skin to speak about what derailed him is unquestionably an asset, Boles feels.

“It’s hard to be competitive in this game when you have a few physical setbacks. It’s hard to make up for time and that shows the value of spring training in terms of guys and how they’re going to approach the season,” said the Pawtucket skipper, who as Portland’s manager in 2012 saw Ranaudo essentially running on fumes. “The thing is that you need to keep the big picture in mind. Ranaudo went through that earlier in his career and with Barnes having the setback in spring training, I think it will be a good learning experience for him just as it was with Ranaudo and something they can go back to in case they run into a little hurdle again.”

Ranaudo and Barnes are often inseparable during the days between starts: They’ll play catch in the outfield before moseying into the weight room. While on the plush outfield grass at McCoy Stadium last Thursday, Ranaudo pointed out something he noticed when Barnes turned to his curveball the previous night. A suggestion was made, one that Ranaudo is eager to see come to life Monday night against Columbus.

“I think he’s on board and agrees. I can’t wait to see how he throws the ball the next time out,” Ranaudo said.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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