Why wouldn’t catcher Christian Vazquez put the ball in the hands of Boston closer Matt Barnes? Barnes 5 for 5 in save chances this season with 22 strikeouts in 47 batters faced (and just three walks). Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS

Matt Barnes has been a different pitcher this season, and it’s all rooted in one number.

In an age of analytics, there are an infinite amount of numbers and ways to approach the game, but there is one that stuck out to the Red Sox closer before the season began.

“One of the analytic numbers that we had was that if you throw 100 fastballs down the middle of the plate in an 0-0 count, 92 percent of the time you get a positive result,” Barnes said. “To me, if you tell me that 92 percent of the time I can be successful doing something, I’m going to take those odds all day every day.”

Across the Red Sox staff, pitchers are working quicker and attacking the strike zone more often than usual this season. Barnes has not only taken the new approach to heart – he’s excelled with it.

Once a pitcher who worked at a slow tempo, Barnes is working at a fast rate this season. And once a pitcher who nibbled around the strike zone and got killed by walks, the veteran is pounding the zone and getting ahead of hitters. It’s clearly working. After Tuesday’s win over the Mets, Barnes is 5 for 5 in save chances this season, and with 22 strikeouts in 47 batters faced – and just three walks – his strikeout rate of 46.8% is the highest of his career.

“I would kind of nibble around the zone a little bit, try to force guys to expand before they were ever engaged,” Barnes said of previous years. “Getting guys to expand drastically before they’ve ever engaged is kind of a tough thing to do. So you’re trying to get guys engaged, get them moving, get them active in the zone, and then that allows you to expand and have better success with that. …


“We’ve been able to put together a really good game plan. … We looked at some of the analytical stuff on attacking the strike zone and working quick and forcing guys to make some decisions at the plate. I’ve taken that wholeheartedly and really tried to use that to my advantage. It’s about working quickly, it’s about attacking guys, it’s being confident in my stuff and being aggressive in the zone.”

Barnes’ new approach was on full display on Tuesday as he faced Pete Alonso in the ninth. Ahead of the Mets’ first baseman with an 0-1 count, Barnes quick-pitched him a fastball that was fouled off. Alonso didn’t seem happy about it, as he glared back at the mound.

The next pitch, Barnes got him chasing for strike three on a curveball in the dirt as he made quick work of the Mets’ order.

“When pitchers are working quick, it kind of puts hitters a little bit on the defensive,” Barnes said. “They don’t have time to think as well. They can’t replay the entire at-bat, they can’t be like, ‘OK, he did this, he did that, now I’m looking here.’ … Not to mention the fielders behind me love it. Nobody wants a slow pitcher. I’ve kind of taken all of that to heart and done my best to work at a quicker pace this year.”

Barnes said his only skepticism with the new approach is what kind of batters it would take into account, from elite-level players like Mike Trout, who are better than the average hitter, to players who have been out for a long period of time and don’t have a large sample size of results. But once Barnes realized that’s more of an exception than the rule, and then he saw the results work during games in spring training, he was all in.

“My goal is to go out there and I might give up a solo homer here and there, but based off of those numbers and what I’ve seen from the first three weeks of the season, I’ll be successful a lot more than I won’t be on this game plan of quick tempo and attacking the zone,” Barnes said.


SHAWRYN RELEASED, RONDON RETIRES: Two pitchers who began the year at Worcester are no longer with the Red Sox. Right-hander Mike Shawaryn was released and has since signed a minor-league deal with the Royals, the team announced. Veteran reliever Héctor Rondón retired in mid-April, two sources confirmed.

Shawaryn, who was a fifth-round pick in 2016, threw 20 ⅓ innings for the Red Sox in 2019, posting a 9.74 ERA largely thanks to a brutal trip to London in which he allowed eight runs on six hits in 1 1/3 innings against the Yankees.He also pitched for the Portland Sea Dogs in 2018, posting a 6-8 record with a 3.28 ERA .

Rondón, the 33-year-old former Cub, Astro and Diamondback, signed a minor-league deal at the end of spring training and was expected to provide bullpen depth. Instead, he decided to end his career.

PITCHERS HITTING: The universal designated hitter rule is not in effect this season, so Red Sox pitchers will get a rare chance to hit when Boston plays in National League Parks.

Richards was 0 for 2 on Tuesday night. Nick Pivetta, who is 9 for 109 (.083) for his career, will get a chance Wednesday night.

“They’ve been working on it for a while,” Manager Alex Cora said. “From the weight room to the training room to the cage. We’ll see how it goes. I know they were talking about swings the other day on the plane. Eddie (Rodriguez) leading the conversation – I wonder why – because he’s the worst. I think Pivetta has nine hits, if I’m not mistaken. (Adam) Ottavino has two hits… We’ll see. We’ll take care of them.”

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