Apr 11, 2014, 9:58 AM EDT
This time last year, Aaron Barrett was one week into the job as closer of the Harrisburg Senators. He was still searching for his first career save at the Double-A level.
Fast forward 12 months and Barrett is a budding star in the Washington Nationals’ bullpen. He’s yet to allow a run through five career MLB outings, a convincing follow-up to his dominant spring of 10 2/3 scoreless innings.
Barrett has been so good that Nationals manager Matt Williams continues to put the rookie in high leverage situations. On Thursday it was in the top of the eighth inning with the Nats nursing a 2-1 lead over the Marlins.
Barrett took the mound against notorious slugger Giancarlo Stanton with two outs. Though Barrett said afterwards Stanton may be the largest man he’s ever pitched against, he was able to strike out Stanton swinging on a hooking slider.
Five of the six pitches Barrett offered to Stanton were, in fact, sliders. Catcher Sandy Leon – his teammate in 2013 at Harrisburg – calls it his best pitch.
“His best pitch is a slider. We got a 2-2 count and I said ‘I want you to throw your best pitch, the slider.’ He threw a nasty one, it was good.”
Just five games into his MLB career, Barrett is thankful for the trust Williams has beset on him.
“It definitely feels good, knowing that he has confidence to put me in those type of situations,” Barrett said. “I think that everyone in the bullpen is capable of handling those roles. When my name is called, I’m just trying to go out there and do my job and get guys out.”
Big game situations are nothing new for Barrett who had 52 saves in four minor league seasons. He has closer stuff, and has found success in late innings before, only with a lot less people watching.
Barrett believes that experience, even though it was on a different scale, has prepared him for his current role.
“You definitely have to embrace it. I think in the minor leagues, closing has definitely prepared me for that situation. Obviously not to that magnitude. He’s obviously a great hitter. You just have to embrace it. My mentality is to win every pitch and try to execute that pitch. Get hitters out.”
Barrett has now finished two games for the Nats, and preserved close leads in two other wins. His reliability – at least so far – has caught the attention of his elder teammates.
“What Aaron Barrett did, that was big,” Ian Desmond said. “Stanton up at the plate. Rookie up there pitching. He went after him and he beat him, which is good. It’s good for him, a little confidence-builder and something for him to draw back on in the future.”
“He’s tough, man. He’s got good stuff,” Jayson Werth said. “He seems like a good kid. Ninety-five with sink and a nasty slider, that’s pretty tough. But you got a guy like that to go with the guys we’ve got gives skipper a bunch of options back there, which is good.”
Barrett is currently part of a deep Nats’ bullpen that has plenty of options for late inning situations, but with each outing the 26-year-old is proving himself worthy of a larger role. There’s no question his MLB future is bright.
“He’s a bulldog,” Stephen Strasburg said. “He’s not scared of anybody. That’s why he’s on this team and that’s why he’s going to be put in those positions many times this year.”
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