- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett took a deep breath and, with his team nursing a one-run lead on Thursday afternoon, tried to throw his best slider to Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The ball was shredded down the line and sent fans diving for cover.

Lucky for Barrett, the ball was foul. Washington catcher Sandy Leon had caught Barrett at Double-A Harrisburg last season and knew it was time for a quick chat with the 26-year-old rookie.

“He said, ‘The next one better be in the dirt,’” Barrett joked.

And so he made an adjustment, taking a little speed off the slider this time and getting Stanton to swing over it. That was the third strike and the final out of the eighth inning with the Nats ahead just 2-1. That set the stage for a five-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth that put the game, and the series, away for Washington.

“It definitely feels good, knowing that [manager] Matt Williams 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.”

And Barrett better get used to this. A long shot to make the roster out of spring training, he earned a role in the bullpen and already has retired 12 of the 13 batters he’s faced so far. He’s provided depth to a group that already felt like a strength with Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard available for late-inning duty at any time. So far, he’s out pitched all of them, though in a smaller role. 

“He’s a bulldog. He’s not scared of anybody,” Nats starter Stephen Strasburg said. “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.”

Barrett was a closer at Harrisburg and Leon knew his best bet was to stay with the slider – just make a better pitch lest Stanton crush one into the stratosphere as he does from time to time. That wouldn’t have played well in a 2-1 game. And so for one at-bat, at least, that familiarity helped.

“I’m just happy for [Barrett] because he’s doing a good job,” said Leon, who himself is in the big leagues as a backup thanks to Wilson Ramos’ hand injury. “It’s good. Every time he has to pitch, he focuses on the hitters. You can see it in his face, he is just trying to do his job and try to make outs, do his work.”

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