INCHING CLOSER: Matt Barnes was sensational again, newcomer Heiker Meneses provided two key hits and the Salem Red Sox kept alive their hopes for a first half division championship with a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Mudcats on Thursday in front of 4,023 at Salem Memorial Ballpark.
PENNANT RACE UPDATE: With Winston-Salem falling 4-3 in Wilmington on Thursday – the surging squad’s first loss in eight games — the Sox trail the Dash by two games in the Carolina League’s Southern Division with three games left in the half. Salem hasn’t won a first half title since 1988.
STILL DEALIN’: Barnes, Boston’s 2011 first round pick out of UConn, continues to overmatch hitters in his debut season. The 6-foot-4 right-hander consistently worked in the high-90s in his five innings of two-hit dominance, striking out nine and walking one.
The one run Barnes allowed actually raised his ERA to 1.37. Combined with his time at Greenville, he’s 6-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings.
WELCOME ABOARD: Meneses, who was demoted to Salem from Double-A on Monday, ripped RBI singles in the second and fourth innings to provide half the Sox runs. The 20-year-old shortstop has hit safely in each of his first four games with the club after batting .197 in 41 games with Portland.
“The level is hard,” he said of Double-A. “Very hard. You’ve got more players coming down from the big leagues. The pitchers throw more breaking pitches. You’ve got to make adjustments, because if you don’t do that, you’ve got big problems.”
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: Meneses played 26 games in Salem last year on his way up, hitting .356 here. So far, he looks comfortable in his return.
“I feel like I’m really close to seeing the ball,” he said.
LOOSE ENDS: Sox catcher Christian Vazquez had an RBI double, a walk and scored twice…Reliever Jeremiah Bayer left the game with an injury in the seventh. Pitching coach Kevin Walker said they were still awaiting word from the trainer on the nature of the ailment…Jackie Bradley Jr. took a rare 0-fer at the plate but did drive in a run with a groundout.
ON DECK: Salem sends RHP Brandon Workman (3-3, 3.31) to the mound against LHP Mike Rayl (4-6, 3.98) at 7:05 tonight. – Aaron McFarling