PAWTUCKET — As far as Triple-A debuts go, Matt Barnes looked quite comfortable.
The slender right-hander was in total command on the McCoy Stadium mound Thursday night, tossing 5.1 scoreless innings that featured a little bit of everything. His Pawtucket teammates were able to make Barnes a victor as the locals silenced Syracuse, 2-0, before 5,021 fans.
Before extolling the pitching virtues of Barnes, a quick playoff update. With second-place Rochester losing to Buffalo by a 3-2 count, Pawtucket’s magic number to clinch the North Division now stands at one. The PawSox’s first chance to confirm a spot in next week’s Governors’ Cup playoffs will come Friday night with Clay Buchholz on the bump.
The 23-year-old Barnes totaled seven strikeouts and two walks. Manager Gary DiSarcina capped the Connecticut native at 86 pitches, 56 of which were strikes.
"I thought what Matt did really well is that he pitched to contact. He didn't try to strike guys out," said PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina. "He wasn't afraid to give up hits, and when you pitch like that, you force guys to swing the bat."
Barnes needed just 14 pitches to retire the Chiefs in order in the first inning, a frame that saw him rely mainly on a fastball that reached as high as 96 miles per hour. His strikeout in the first inning came on a 78-mph curveball that befuddled Syracuse’s Jeff Kobernus.
The second inning saw Barnes expand his repertoire and incorporate his change-up and feature his curve more. He got out of a first-and-second predicament thanks to catcher Dan Butler cutting down Chris Rahl at second base.
After retiring the Chiefs in order in the third inning, Barnes was forced to strap on his hardhat in the fourth. Once again confronted with a two-on, two-out pickle, the University of Connecticut product zipped a pitch past Will Rhymes.
Barnes surrendered a one-out double in the fifth but retired the next two. He set down the only batter he faced in the sixth before DiSarcina decided to pass the baton to the bullpen.
“You want him to have that good first taste in his mouth about his first outing in Triple A,” said DiSarcina.
It was far from perfect, but four PawSox relievers combined to nail the final 11 outs. Rubby De La Rosa recorded as many walks as outs (two) in the seventh before getting pulled with the bases loaded. On came Chris Martin, who got Eury Perez to fly out to center field.
Martin stranded two more Syracuse runners before turning things over to closer Anthony Carter. The righty nailed down his 24th save, which ties a franchise record, as Pawtucket achieved its 11th shutout.
The PawSox notched all the offense it would need in the first inning. On the strength of three straight hits to begin the game, the home team jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind a RBI single from Ryan Lavarnway and a run-scoring groundout by Bryce Brentz.
Brandon Snyder played five innings at third base in his second rehab game, going 1-for-3. Prior to the game, the PawSox announced that outfielder Tony Thomas had been sent back to Portland and that reliever Chris Carpenter was placed on the temporary inactive list.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03