READING, Pa. – In his Double-A debut back on April 8, Matt Barnes lasted just one inning at Hadlock Field against the Reading Fightin Phils.
To the 22-year-old Barnes, that start feels like it was from another lifetime.
“That was a long time ago,” he said Wednesday afternoon, after breezing through the Reading lineup, striking out 10 over six innings in visiting Portland’s 2-1 Eastern League victory at sunny FirstEnergy Stadium.
Barnes indeed looked like a different pitcher than the one who needed 33 pitches — and allowed a pair of runs — to get through his first and only inning that night.
He commanded his 95 mph fastball and mixed in an effective curveball and change-up to record his best outing in five chances for the Eastern Division-leading Sea Dogs (15-9).
The former first-round pick out of Connecticut allowed just three hits and walked only one batter. The only blemish came on a fourth-inning homer to Reading first baseman Jim Murphy, which tied the game 1-1.
“I was just getting ahead, able to command the fastball,” Barnes said. “The curveball was really good today; (I) was able to throw that for strikes. I just had a good mix of pitches going and was able to locate. I was able to keep them off-balanced and keep them guessing.”
“The first time we saw him we did a good job of just hunting that fastball,” Murphy said. “We had long at-bats and got his pitch count up. He threw too many in the first and he was done. Today, that didn’t happen.”
Other than the homer, Barnes allowed just one runner to reach second base. He finished with a flourish, striking out the side in the fifth — finishing the Phils with a fastball, curve and change-up.
Shannon Wilkerson hit a homer leading off the seventh to give the Sea Dogs a 2-1 lead and Barnes a chance to pick up his second Double-A victory.
That was in doubt in the eighth when reliever Pete Ruiz walked Edgar Duran, sent him to second on an errant pickoff attempt and to third on a wild pitch.
Murphy appeared to plate the run with a two-out grounder up the middle but second baseman Heiker Meneses made the play of the game, ranging behind the bag to snag the grounder. He fell to the ground but got off a strong throw from his back and nailed Murphy by a half-step to end the inning and preserve the lead.
“That’s a wow play,” said Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper.
“To range that far, save a run, to make that throw, that’s a terrific play,” said Portland Manager Kevin Boles. “Getting to the ball is one thing, but to be able to get (off) a throw and be accurate with the throw, I thought that was just a wonderful play. Pretty impressive.”
The Sea Dogs went ahead with a first-inning run as Xander Bogaerts singled, Travis Shaw was hit by a pitch and J.C. Linares drove a double into the gap in left-center.
Barnes, the Red Sox’s top-rated pitching prospect, and the No. 3 prospect overall according to Baseball America, took it from there.
He struck out five batters the first time through the order and finished with his second-highest strikeout total as a pro. He fanned 12 in his first outing last season at Class A Salem.
Barnes’ ERA is still high, at 6.75, but he’s averaging 12.15 strikeouts per nine innings, third-best in the league.