Barnes optioned, but shows promise in camp
Left-hander had freak injury in '11, lauded by Acta for spring effort
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It was a routine play, one practiced over and over to the point of being ingrained in a pitcher's muscle memory. A batter squares to bunt, chops the baseball down the third-base line and the pitcher runs off the mound in pursuit.
There was no routine result for Indians Minor League lefty Scott Barnes last summer, though. While the stars appeared to be aligning for a trip up to The Show, Barnes' left knee had other plans.
On July 10 in a Triple-A game for Columbus, Barnes headed off the hill to field a sixth-inning bunt, and his journey to the big leagues was promptly put on hold.
"It was just one of those plays that's a freak accident," Barnes said. "I just happened to tear my knee up on a bunt. There was nothing I could do about it. I can't control that."
As he recounted the injury, Barnes leaned against a wall in the hallway just outside the Indians' clubhouse at their spring complex on Thursday morning. Inside the locker room doors, a handful of stalls to the left, sat a freshly-cleaned stall that had belonged to the young pitcher. His name plate remained, but his time in big league camp had come to a close.
The Indians optioned a handful of players to the Minor Leagues on Thursday, doing some necessary roster trimming as the midpoint of the spring schedule draws near. As expected, Barnes was sent back to Columbus, so he stuffed his belongings in a Cleveland equipment bag and relocated to the Minor League clubhouse down the hall.
Barnes -- back at full strength after needing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee last season -- was grateful for his time in camp with the Major League club.
"They made it really comfortable and they made it really relaxing for me," Barnes said. "They told me at the beginning of spring to stay within myself and not try and do too much. Right then and there, I felt like I was in really good hands.
"It's a great group of guys over here and, hopefully, I'll be able to be up there at some point during the season."
Barnes is a few notches down on the Tribe's rotation depth chart, but he is undoubtedly on the team's radar for a possible summer promotion. The lefty certainly did not hurt his cause this spring, fashioning seven shutout innings with six strikeouts and one walk over his three Cactus League appearances for the Indians.
"He's been very aggressive, man," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He's not intimidated at all."
Acta then added what would surely be music to Barnes' ears.
"He's a guy that we do see contributing to our ballclub," the manager said. "But, we don't know when. April 10 or 30? May? June? I'm just being realistic."
The Indians -- a team convinced it will contend for a playoff spot this year -- have a rotation that is mostly established with Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin. Roberto Hernandez could rejoin the club at some point, but Cleveland also has Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber, all of whom have varying degrees of big league experience.
Barnes currently falls within that second tier of starting options, but his stock could certainly rise if he builds on his showing last season and this spring.
Last year, the 24-year-old went 8-4 with a 3.45 ERA in 18 games between Double-A Akron and Columbus before suffering the season-ending knee injury. The 6-foot-4 left-hander logged 99 innings, ending with 107 strikeouts, 36 walks and a .230 opponents' batting average.
Before the injury, the Indians were considering Barnes for the big league rotation in light of the injuries hitting the staff.
"Everything happens for a reason," Barnes said. "That's the way I look at it."
In the wake of the trade that brought Jimenez to the Indians last July, Barnes is the closest thing to a top pitching prospect that Cleveland has in the upper levels of its farm system. The Rockies received four players in the Jimenez deal, but prized pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White highlighted the swap.
The Indians acquired Barnes in another Trade Deadline deal. On July 27 during the 2009 season, Cleveland received the left-hander in a one-for-one deal that sent Ryan Garko to San Francisco. Barnes faced his former team on Wednesday, when he struck out four and spun three shutout frames against the Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"Barnes was really good," said Giants catcher Buster Posey, who played with the pitcher in the Minor Leagues. "He was impressive. He had a really good slider and was hiding the ball really well."
Barnes is just happy that he is back at full strength.
The pitcher spent the past eight months in Arizona rehabbing his knee, gaining clearance a couple weeks ago to remove a bulky brace while he pitches. His goal for this spring was to regain strength in his legs, and to also regain the level of comfort he had on the mound prior to that ill-fated bunt.
Barnes accomplished that, and turned some heads in the process.
"He continues to impress everybody," Acta said.
Leaving big league camp on that kind of note is precisely what Barnes hoped would happen.
"It feels good," Barnes said. "I mean, I couldn't have asked for a better spring myself. Not knowing what to expect going into it and the way everything played out, I'm really happy with the way things ended up."