- - Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It was just a regular-season game in the New York-Penn League that drew just 2,924 fans at Falcon Park in Auburn, New York.

But that game in a small upstate New York town meant the world to pitcher Aaron Barrett, a former key reliever for the Washington Nationals.

In that minor-league contest June 15 for the Auburn Doubledays against Batavia, Barrett came on the sixth inning and retired three batters — all on strikeouts. It was the first time Barrett pitched in a professional game since August 5, 2015, when he faced Arizona while pitching for the Nationals.

“It was just good to be back,” Barrett said. “I was able to pitch in Florida (in rehab games). It is just different when you are able to get under the lights. It has been a long road, there is no doubt about that.”

Barrett, a 30-year-old right-handed reliever, is trying to get back to the major leagues after enduring Tommy John surgery in September 2015 under the direction of renowned Dr. James Andrews.

After that recovery process, he was about a week away from going on a major league rehab assignment when he broke his arm in July 2016, and Andrews was again involved in that surgery.

Paul Menhart, the pitching coordinator in player development for the Nationals, lavishes plenty of praise on Barrett for his perseverance.

“He is a very special human,” Menhart said. “He has an inner fuel that is unmatched in my view. He is not going to quit unless his stuff is not (big league quality) or someone takes the uniform away from him. He has done a miraculous job to get to the point to just throw a baseball.”

In 13 games through Tuesday for the Nationals’ short-season Class A affiliate in Auburn, Barrett had a record of 1-0 with an ERA of 2.13 in 122/3 innings, with 17 strikeouts, eight walks and seven hits allowed.

His fastball has been clocked in the low 90s this year with Auburn, while he threw in the mid-90s with the Nationals.

But Barrett is undeterred.

“I think the velocity will be the last thing to come,” he said.

Menhart, a former big league pitcher, said he has seen Barrett pitch about six times with Auburn. The plan is for Barrett to finish the season with Auburn next month, have a regular offseason for the first time in three years and compete for a spot in the Nationals bullpen in 2019.

“He has a road ahead of him that he has to get over and through,” Menhart said. “We are looking forward to see what regular rest (this winter) would do.”

Barrett grew up in Evansville, Indiana. After high school, he headed to Ole Miss, where he was drafted by the Nationals in the ninth round in 2010. He worked his way up the minor league ladder and made his big league debut in 2014, pitching in 50 games for the Nationals while posting an ERA of 2.66.

The next season, Barrett appeared in 40 games for Washington, with an ERA of 4.60.

After missing the past two seasons, Barrett was in West Palm Beach, Florida in spring training this past March. One day, he threw off the mound as new Nationals manager Dave Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist watched from a distance.

“That was a big stepping stone; I have had a lot of stepping stones along the way,” Barrett said.

Barrett said his faith as a Christian has aided his comeback.

“It is certainly the most important thing,” he said. “There for a long time I questioned why me? I was so close to getting back. When I am healthy I know what I am capable of. To have what happened to me, I questioned it for a long time.”

“As I go through this process I feel the Lord has blessed me in so many ways. When the game is taken away from you, you look at it in a difference perspective,” he added. “I throw a baseball for a living. When you can’t do that anymore you (don’t) take it for granted.”

His wife, Kendyl, a former Ole Miss soccer player, had the couple’s first child, daughter Kollyns, last fall. Kendyl went into labor Oct. 7 — the night Bryce Harper hit a homer in the playoffs against the Cubs at Nationals Park.

Barrett notes he may have missed the birth of his first child had he been healthy and on the Nationals playoff roster in 2017. He believes he can come back from rare two-surgery injuries.

“Why not me?” Barrett said. “A lot of people didn’t feel I could throw a baseball again. Dr. Andrews called me a miracle. It is pretty amazing what God can do. If you put your trust in Him there is nothing you can’t do. I truly believe that.”

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