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Matt Barnes still wants to be closer for Red Sox

Matt Barnes is the favorite to be the Red Sox' closer this season, and he certainly wants it.

When Brandon Workman was traded last August, Barnes took over as the closer and saved nine games the rest of the way. In September, Barnes said he was "all in" on being the closer again in 2021, and that hasn't changed. Asked Saturday if he wants to be the closer, he had a one-word answer.

"Yes," Barnes said emphatically.

After being rehired as manager, Alex Cora said in December that if the season started then, Barnes would close. This season, Cora is ready to name a set closer instead of the bullpen-by-committee approach from 2019, but right now, he's keeping his options open. Though he ruled out new addition Hirokazu Sawamura for the role, Barnes, Adam Ottavino and Darwinzon Hernandez seem like the most likely closer candidates.

Barnes, the former UConn star, is certainly capable. After a rough start to the season, he finished strong with a 2.45 ERA over his final 11 appearances, which included seven saves. Barnes attributed his early-season struggles to the pandemic-delayed start to the year, when he said that he physically didn't have enough time to prepare like he's used to. He said the first four weeks of the regular season felt like spring training because of the delay.

"The stuff wasn't as crisp, things were off a little bit and I'm sitting there having to figure it out while trying to protect a one-run lead in the eighth," Barnes said. "When that four weeks was up and everything felt great, that's to me what my body had always felt like was the start of the season. Now obviously it wasn't and like I said there are no excuses and you have to get outs in any way you possibly can. But from a physical standpoint I think that's the biggest difference."

Barnes faces a pivotal season in 2021, as the 30-year-old becomes a free agent after this season. He said nothing changes in terms of his approach to the year, but he's hopeful to ink an extension to stay with the Red Sox sooner than later.

"That would be fantastic," Barnes said. "This is the only place I've ever played in my career, obviously. I love playing here. I've won here. The fans are great in Boston. This is home to me. I would love to play here for the rest of my career, but at the same time I'm focused on going out and getting ready for the season and if those conversations pick back up, then they do, and if they don't, they don't. I'm going to focus on what I'm doing and let my agent and the front office handle any negotiations and let them take that if they want to."

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