Matt Barnes making strong bid for bullpen spot

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Port, where former No. 1 prospect Matt Barnes continues to make a bid to break camp with the Red Sox as a reliever, after serving exclusively as a starter in three seasons since he was drafted out of the University of Connecticut.

On Saturday against the Rays, Barnes entered in relief of knuckleballer Steven Wright with six unearned runs in and two on and two out in the fourth and induced Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending force play. He then worked two more scoreless innings, allowing just a hit and no walks while striking out four.

He has been used exclusively as a reliever in “A” games this spring, making seven appearances out of the bullpen, and has touched 96 and 97 mph with his velocity. With 16 strikeouts and no home runs allowed in 12 innings, he is giving the Sox an inviting option to add another power arm to the pen.

“I feel happy with how I’ve thrown the ball,’’ Barnes said.

The bullpen is in something of a state of flux because of the uncertain status of closer Koji Uehara, who has been sidelined since March 14 with a strained left hamstring. Uehara, who has made just three appearances this spring, threw a bullpen side session Saturday, and may throw another on Monday if he checks out OK Sunday, John Farrell said. The Sox manager insists there is still a possibility Uehara could open the season on time.

"Even if Koji were able to get in a couple of games, we’d remain open-minded,’’ Farrell said. “We’re talking about a one-inning reliever, a veteran guy who has been able to keep his arm in shape. This is still day to day.''

Joe Kelly, who is scheduled to be the team’s No. 5 starter, came out of his minor league start Friday fine and would be scheduled to go again Wednesday. How does Kelly impact the bullpen? The Sox may place Kelly on the DL to start the season, since they won’t need a No. 5 starter until April 15, at home against Washington. If they do so, Farrell said the club might open the season with an extra reliever.

To date, the locks for the bullpen are Uehara, once he is healthy, Edward Mujica, Alexi Ogando, Junichi Tazawa, and Anthony Varvaro. Still to be determined is whether the Sox will keep one or two lefties, with newcomer Robbie Ross, recovering from a minor knee problem earlier in camp, making a late push to challenge Craig Breslow and Tommy Layne. Right-hander Brandon Workman, who has had a tough spring but struck out the side Saturday, is in the mix, as is Barnes.

Because of the health issues involving Uehara and Kelly, those decisions may not come until the end of camp, Farrell said.

  • Other takeaways Saturday: Shane Victorino played right field, led off the game with a nine-pitch walk, came around to score and later singled in a run in what Farrell hopes will be the first of three straight starts in the outfield. Victorino has not yet started back-to-back games in the outfield.

  • Knuckleballer Steven Wright gave up four singles and a walk after Xander Bogaerts’ two-out error in the fourth, leading to five unearned runs for the Rays. Up to that point, with the exception of two first-inning walks, Wright was breezing along, and Farrell mentioned again how much he likes the contrast in styles a knuckleballer can offer. Wright figures to open the season in Pawtucket’s rotation and in line for a quick callup.

  • Rick Porcello started for High-A Salem in a minor league game and threw 96 pitches, 71 for strikes. He faced 32 batters while recording 25 outs and allowed a run on five hits. Porcello will likely ramp down in his final spring tuneup in advance of starting the season’s second game in Philadelphia on April 8.

  • Humberto Quintero, who appears likely to start the season backing up Ryan Hanigan at catcher, caught Porcello and went 0-for-6 at the plate.

  • Pablo Sandoval had 11 plate appearances in two minor league games, playing for Salem and Greenville, and had three hits, the hits all coming while batting left-handed.

  • Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez walked three straight batters on 12 consecutive balls in the ninth, but gave up just one run while striking out two.

  • Mike Napoli hit an opposite-field, wind-aided home run, his third of the spring, and Hanley Ramirez lined a two-run base hit.