Nationals right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett is right in the middle of quite a run.
Let's begin with spring training. Barrett played in 10 games and finished 10 2/3 innings without allowing a run. He gave up only five hits, struck out eight and walked none. Opposing hitters batted .147 against him.
Now nine games into the 2014 regular season, teams are befuddled by Barrett and his stuff.
He started it all with three amazing outs on opening day at New York. In the bottom of the ninth, he sandwiched a fly out between two swinging strikeouts, notching his first major league victory as the Nationals beat the Mets 9-7 in 10 innings. Against the Mets, he fired eight fastballs and three sliders. One of the fastballs hit 95 mph.
Then Thursday, Barrett arrived in another nail-biting moment: top of the eighth, two outs, and the Nationals clinging to a 2-1 lead against the Marlins with the dangerous Giancarlo Stanton stepping in. Stanton struck out, Barrett earned a hold and the Nationals won 7-1 to sweep the series. Barrett threw him five sliders and a 94 mph four-seam fastball that was a called second strike.
Winning pitcher Stephen Strasburg got a look at Barrett's work.
"He is a bulldog," Strasburg said. "He is not scared of anybody. I think that is why he is on this team and I think that is why he is going to be put in those positions many times this year."
The last two seasons in the minors, Barrett recorded 142 strikeouts and 43 saves. In 2012, Barrett pitched 31 games for low Single-A Hagerstown.
And this season, Barrett is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in four games. He has pitched five innings without allowing a hit or a run, yielding just one walk while recording six strikeouts. Barrett hasn't allowed a run in 14 2/3 innings since the beginning of spring training.
Barrett is a perfect addition to a bullpen that struggled at times last season. Starter Gio Gonzalez has been impressed with the early-season success from the 26-year-old Barrett.
"I love watching Aaron," said Gonzalez. "He is just dominant. Guy goes out there and attacks the strike zone. It is fun to watch to see this young guy going out there, having fun and pounding that strike zone. And not only him, but the guys in the bullpen. I think he is amongst a great group of guys that will constantly help him get better and teach him what is right and wrong."
Veterans like Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler and Tyler Clippard, mixing with Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano and Jerry Blevins, create a nice mix of youth and experience for Barrett. The Nationals bullpen is off to a great start and will be fun to see them challenge the Braves' strong cast of relievers, especially Craig Kimbrel, Ian Thomas and David Carpenter.