- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2015

Twelve pitches, just four strikes. A walk, wild pitch and the winning — or losing, depending on perspective — run. That was Aaron Barrett’s result on Oct. 7, the night the Washington Nationals left a baseball field for the final time last season.

Barrett talked it about it after the game, joking then, trying to defer and diffuse the weight around the play. Months later, he was ready and almost eager to talk about the dismal ⅓ of an inning at NatsFest. He appears to have wrapped his arms around the situation.

“It’s not what I wanted,” Barrett said. “It’s not like I was trying for that. But, I think the experience that I gained over that outing, and I think the playoffs in general, it’s not only going to make me stronger mentally, physically, everything, I think it’s just an opportunity for myself to grow and the team to grow too.”

During his rookie season, Barrett’s responsibilities out of the bullpen grew. He made 50 appearances, including 10 in September, and was charged with dominating right-handed hitters with runners on base. He did that. Right-handers had a paltry .277 on-base percentage against the 2010 ninth-round pick. With runners in scoring position, opponents hit just .219 against Barrett.

Barrett entered in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants in a customary spot. Two runners were on base, right-hander Hunter Pence was coming up and the slider Barrett used during the season to stifle right-handed hitters was holstered.

Except, he walked Pence to load the bases. A wild pitch followed, allowing Joe Panik to score the go-ahead run from third base. Barrett was then told to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval. His attempt to do so roared over the head of catcher Wilson Ramos and to the backstop. Barrett covered the plate in time to tag out Buster Posey. Rafael Soriano wriggled out of the craziness created by Barrett and Matt Thornton before him, but the Nationals would end up losing the games, which cost them the series.

“I’ve been in that position all year long; coming in, runners on, game on the line. Did it a couple times in September … I was ready for the moment,” Barrett said at NatsFest. “That’s why I was on the playoff roster, for that reason right there. I was ready to go and I just didn’t … didn’t go the way that I wanted. I own up for that. I take responsibility for it. Better believe I’ll be ready for the opportunity again.”

As Barrett spoke, breaths were few and his intensity rose. If there was a mound nearby and a crucial situation to be put in, Barrett likely would have ran out there.

“You can’t just brush it under the rug,” Barrett said. “It’s a huge moment. You have to live for that moment, and I do. I’ve worked very hard to get to that situation and to get to this point in my career to be ready for that moment. I’m not saying I wasn’t ready, because I was. It just didn’t go my way.

“I cannot wait for the opportunity for when I get in that position again next year. Because I know we’re going to be in that situation again and I hope I’m the guy to get called again. I’ll prove everybody wrong and get the guy out.”
Coming out of spring training on the Major League roster was an initial highlight for Barrett. Over his first 20 appearances, he gave up one run. Barrett started to realize that, at 26 years old, he was in the majors and having success. He finished with a 2.66 ERA. Made the playoff roster. Had what he called a “very, very surreal year.”

Like most pitchers, he’s tinkered in the winter months. Paul Menhart, the pitching coach for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, worked with Barrett on his changeup. He needs additional weaponry against left-handed hitters, and hopes throwing that offspeed pitch with a “split-change grip” will help. He’s consulted fellow relievers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen about executing the pitch. Barrett also felt his command slipped toward the end of the season. Making sure he improves it is also on the to-do list.

On Aug. 13 when the Nationals visit the Giants for the only time during the regular season, Barrett will see the mound, plate and moment that outweighed the rest of his season. Though, in the months since, he’s managed to overpower any flashback with rational thought.

“Through the year and this offseason I’ve learned that baseball is something that I’m very good at it and I’m not going to let it affect everything about me,” Barrett said. “I’m not going to let one bad outing affect who I am. I’m going to keep being myself and push forward and be the positive person I am.”

A chance to pitch in a tough spot again will only make him happier.

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