Rolling around on a motor scooter has brought predictable comedic shots from his teammates. Washington Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett said he doesn’t have to have it, or even the single crutch he leans on, but it helped to get around at Nationals Winterfest during the weekend. Barrett had ankle surgery Dec. 3 to remove bone spurs and chips.
It was a long time coming. Barrett had an MRI in December of 2014 that showed he had an ankle problem. Last season, he just had a trainer tape up the ankle of his landing leg so he could pitch. Since he needed Tommy John surgery Sept. 3, Barrett figured now was the time to have his ankle fixed, too.
“Since I’m out, it was just best-case scenario to get this fixed now so I don’t have any problems moving forward with my throwing program,” Barrett said. “It was an easy procedure. Nothing major. All in all, I’m officially fixed.”
Barrett said the ankle began to bother him during the end of 2014. That’s when he had it initially examined. More troublesome was his right arm. Barrett had an 80 percent tear of his UCL, leading to surgery by Dr. James Andrews.
After an effective 2014, when Barrett’s ERA was 2.66 and ERA-plus was 142, he was less effective in 2015. His ERA rose to 4.60, though many of his peripheral numbers were similar to the season before.
His 2014 success caused then-manager Matt Williams to turn to Barrett often at the start of 2015. That reliance, Barrett suggested Sunday, may have led to the damage in his elbow. Barrett said he thought he threw too much.
“Warming up, not going into the game, then pitching the next game,” Barrett said. “Then warming up in the sixth inning, then the seventh inning, pitching in the eighth inning. Things like that over the course of the season. I think I pitched in 30 of the first 60 games and I think I was hot in 15 additional of those. So, when you’re hot in 45 of the first 60 games, I think it’s a pretty heavy workload. Obviously, I was trying to manage that the best that I could, but it eventually caught up with me.”
Barrett was caught in one of baseball’s traps. In his second season, he didn’t want to say he couldn’t pitch a certain day. That, pitchers often thinks, is a sign of weakness, since all pitchers experience soreness. He was also not an established veteran. Both points caused him to try to pitch through his pain. Then, he was injured.
“I think there’s not a guy that doesn’t pitch through a little bit of soreness,” Barrett said. “That’s just kind of part of it, part of the game. You’re putting so much stress on your arm all the time. So, I think there were times that I felt there might have been something going on, but, at the same time, in my situation I didn’t feel like I had as much leverage to really say no. You’re kind of the young guy on the totem pole and all of us down there are competitors and we want to get the ball every day, you want to be that reliable guy to take the ball every day. You watch Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and Matt Thornton take the ball every day.
“And you’re trying to establish yourself in the big leagues. When you’re kind of a younger guy, you kind of don’t have that benefit to be able to say no unless you have that five to 10 years tenure, so it’s a fine line to be able to say no. But, you know, obviously it’s a learning process for me and I definitely learned that there are time that I’m going to have to say no.”
Barrett, 27, said he is scheduled to start playing catch in February, and is happy with his recovery process. He’s rehabilitating in Atlanta with physical therapist Troy Jones, who formerly worked in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system. Barrett thinks the surgery may even improve his pitching in the long run. He won’t set a definitive date for a return, though is trying to return to the Major Leagues next season.