Barrett confident and effective in first game back, wants more

The Nationals recalled Aaron Barrett Tuesday, and later that day the right-hander was in the game against the Rays at Tropicana Field, summoned in the sixth inning.

Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe was on first and there was one out. Mike Brosseau singled on Barrett’s two-seam fastball and suddenly the Rays had two men on.

But the very next pitch, Barrett got Yoshi Tsutsugo hit a grounder to shortstop Trea Turner for an inning-ending double play.

In the seventh, Barrett returned to the hill and gave up a leadoff single to Manuel Margot. But he rebounded with a called third strike on his 81 mph curveball to Nate Lowe for the first out.

barrett-follows-through-sidebar.jpgWilly Adames lined out to left field, and after Barrett went 3-0 to Kevin Kiermaier, manager Davey Martinez elected to intentionally walk the batter. It did appear that at least one of Barrett’s curveballs caught the outside corner for a strike, but he didn’t get the call home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

Unfazed, Barrett got Kevan Smith to ground out to third base to end the threat.

Five outs, two hits, one intentional walk and one strikeout for Barrett in his first game of the 2020 regular season. The most important stat in the outing? No runs allowed.

“It was different,” Barrett said during his postgame Zoom video call. “It was great, though. I mean, any time for me to be able to toe a big league mound is always going to be a special moment for me. Regardless if there is any fans in the stands or not. Just trying to have fun, trying to keep us in the ball game and just trying to make pitches. I really enjoyed it and had a great time, and hopefully we can get out there tomorrow and get a ‘W’.”

As Barrett worked, it appeared his mechanics were cleaner and he showed more fluidity in his windup and delivery of each pitch. The right-hander admitted he still can get better, but was happy with this first opportunity.

“Pretty good,” Barrett said. “One of the things that I’ve really been working on is trying not to do too much. I definitely say I can get myself in trouble trying to create something in my body and my arm that necessarily isn’t there. Tonight, was one of those things where velo wasn’t exactly where I had been, but just trying to really focus on staying calm and just making pitches and being down in the zone and getting those groundball outs when I needed to.”

Martinez had a quick chat with Barrett as he stepped on the mound for the first time in a regular season game since last September.

“He was good, really good,” Martinez said. “He was done in Fredericksburg. He was throwing the ball well. His two-seamer, they say, was really good, his slider was good. He came in today and I told him, ‘Get the ground ball that I know you can get.’ He got the first one that went through, but he got the second one, turned the double play. I thought he threw the ball really well today.”

Iassogna was not giving Barrett the top corner on his curveball/slider pitch, even though a couple of them appeared to be strikes. But Barrett kept moving and focused on the next pitch.

“I’ve always had my slider or curveball, whatever people want to call it,” Barrett said. “Being able to throw that in the zone and being able to then throw it off my fastball and being able to get ahead of guys is huge for me. Mechanically, just felt a little more impact, a little more relaxed. That’s something I have been trying to work on, is just trying to stay smooth. Not trying to do too much, that’s where I get out of control.

“Next time I feel like I can be a little more aggressive, really staying through the ball and driving the ball through home plate. It’s good to get that first one underneath my belt, and hopefully we will keep it rolling.”

Barrett’s two-seam fastball was clocked consistently at 90 to 91 mph. This surprised him, but he acknowledged he feels like he can do better, based on his simulated games in Fredericksburg.

“I’ve been around 90-93 (mph) this summer,” Barrett said. “I saw a couple 89’s up there. So, that’s great, I’ll take that. I expect it to be better next outing because I definitely know that I was trying to just really hone in on staying calm and staying present and just making pitches.”

Martinez said he had put in left-hander Ben Braymer after Aníbal Sánchez got into some more trouble because he wanted to get a left-handed hitter out. He wasn’t concerned that Braymer is a rookie.

“I kind of want to see these guys, see what happens,” Martinez said. “I know it’s a learning process. He’s left-handed, we need a left-handed pitcher in that moment and I wanted to see what he can do. I thought he did all right after he settled in a little bit. I thought he did OK.”

Part of Martinez’s strategy Tuesday and going forward, and part of what general manager Mike Rizzo wants to see, is how these young pitchers handle adversity or high-leverage situations. This will help them decide who deserves a shot at the roster next season. In the fifth inning of the 6-1 loss to the Rays, Braymer allowed a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single. But he also struck out three batters and pitched into the next frame.

“Two sides of the spectrum, but you got to get these guys opportunities trying to take care of them,” Martinez said. “Sometimes you gotta not baby them and see what they can do, see what you got.”

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