It wasn’t the most graceful of slides. A catcher barreling headfirst into first base, a Velcro strap careening off of his elbow guard.
But he was safe. Anything for Tres Barrera to get his first big league hit in over a month.
“First, I was trying to run so fast to get to first base,” Barrera said, smiling. “I saw (Braves second baseman Vaughn Grissom) dive, I was like, 'Dang, I gotta get there.' I kinda felt my body weight shift over to the front side, so I was almost trying to keep myself from falling and looking dumb so I just said, 'I’ll go into a headfirst slide' after that.
“It probably still didn’t look very cool, but honestly, that’s what happened.”
Despite being recalled from Triple-A Rochester three weeks ago, Barrera hadn’t received a single plate appearance since Aug. 21, instead watching from the bench as Riley Adams and Israel Pineda caught game after game.
When he finally got a chance to play in Wednesday’s series finale against the Braves, Barrera took advantage. The 28-year-old collected two singles, including that third-inning infield hit, and picked up his third career caught stealing by nabbing Grissom at second in the seventh inning.
“I knew it was going to come at some point," said Barrera about getting the opportunity to start. "That's part of it. I just tried to maintain ready, come with the same attitude like I was going to play every day. Today was the day, and I just had fun with it."
Barrera also caught all nine innings of the 3-2 win, in which Nats relievers combined to keep the Braves off the scoreboard for the final five innings.
"He did really well," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "He handled the pitching staff really well, got a couple hits. Just a testament (to) how he prepares and how he stays ready. He gets an opportunity to play and he comes through."
When an injured Keibert Ruiz rejoined the team in Atlanta, the Nats clubhouse suddenly became stocked with backstops. Barrera is the oldest of the group, and even though he lacks significant big league experience – only 47 career games played – he’s accepted his role as a veteran, helping mentor Adams, Pineda and Ruiz.
“I almost felt like a coach for a little bit,” said Barrera. “They ask me what I see, I ask them what they see, catching bullpens before the game, game-planning.”
Martinez said Barrera has been working with hitting coach Darnell Coles on hitting the ball more toward the middle of the field.
“Those guys that come off the bench and only play once or twice a week, or whatever the case may be, their job is not really to go out there and try to hit homers,” said Martinez. “Their job is to get on base, do the little things right, and he did that today.”
“I’m that type of guy. I’m the first one in the cage,” said Barrera. “I love being in the cage, no matter if I’m hitting or not. I like watching other guys hit, I like watching videos of other guys hit.”
With Adams hitting just .193 on the season and the rookie Pineda still looking for his first big league knock, more opportunities could be on the horizon for Barrera.
“I try to prepare like I’m starting every day," Barrera said. "That’s not going to change. I’m glad it showed out there that my preparations paid off.”