By Peter Abraham | Globe Staff
February 24, 2014
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Matt Barnes glanced at the daily schedule posted in the Red Sox clubhouse to see what time he would be throwing live batting practice.
When his eyes moved to the right, the 23-year-old righthander saw that he would be facing David Ortiz and Mike Carp.
“That gets your attention, facing a guy like David. It puts things in perspective because I grew up watching him,” Barnes said Sunday. “Obviously everybody knows who he is and what he has done. But you still have to compete and go out there.”
Barnes, a native of Bethel, Conn., rooted for the Yankees as a kid and remembers being disappointed when Ortiz delivered so many big hits against New York in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Now there he was, standing at the plate with mirrored sunglasses on, menacingly swinging a bat back and forth.
“You can’t get nervous. If I’m going to succeed in the majors, I know I’m going to face great hitters,” Barnes said. “I took it as a challenge.”
Barnes had a little trouble throwing strikes, but the pitches he got over the plate produced some poor swings by Ortiz.
“Guy is tough,” Ortiz said when he left the cage.
The Red Sox are counting on that. Barnes was the 19th overall pick of the 2011 draft out of the University of Connecticut and signed for a $1.5 million bonus. He has a 3.48 earned run average in 50 minor league starts and ended last season with Triple A Pawtucket.
Barnes has struck out 275 in 233 minor league innings. He has one of the best fastballs in the system, but needs work on his secondary pitches. This is his first year in major league spring training.
Barnes was excited to be able to face Ortiz, but said the best part of the day was throwing to veteran catcher David Ross.
“Great feedback from Rossy, that was helpful to me,” he said. “He has so much experience and knows the game so well. Those kind of moments are valuable for me.”
Until Sunday, Barnes said the toughest hitter he faced was Shelley Duncan, a power hitter with major league experience who spent time last season in Triple A.
“Nobody like David,” Barnes said. “But it was fun. I want to do it again.”