- - Thursday, July 18, 2019

Aaron Barrett is trying to make a triumphant return to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals.

This time, it will be much more challenging. He needs to prove many people wrong.

The right-handed reliever underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in September 2015. While he was working his way back, he fractured his right elbow in July 2016.

“A lot of people thought I would never throw a baseball again,” Barrett said.

After making a combined 90 appearances out of Washington’s bullpen in 2014 and 2015, Barrett did not throw a single pitch in a professional game the next two seasons.

But Barrett, 31, returned to pro ball in 2018 when he appeared in 20 games with Auburn (New York) of the short-season New York-Penn League. He posted a 1.74 ERA and gave up just 13 hits in 202/3 innings with 26 strikeouts and eight walks.

This season, he moved up to Double-A Harrisburg and became the team’s closer. He recorded his 18th save of the season Wednesday at Bowie and lowered his ERA to 2.70, and earlier this month he was named to the Eastern League All-Star Game.

“Sometimes I have to kind of pinch myself,” Barrett said. “My wife reminds me all the time: Don’t forget what you are striving for, but at the same time enjoy the process.”

Many are rooting for the affable Barrett, nicknamed “The Bear,” including Nationals veteran pitcher Jonny Venters. Venters spent time with Barrett in Harrisburg earlier this year before being called up to Washington. The two also work out together in Georgia in the offseason.

“There were 16 screws in his elbow. It was wild. I saw the X-rays,” said Venters, who has undergone elbow ligament replacement surgery several times himself. “He has such a great attitude. I feel he is right where he needs to be.”

Barrett also has a fan in state Rep. Sheryl Delozier, Pennsylvania Republican, who said that “anyone that knows (Barrett) was hurting for him” as he battled through his injuries.

Delozier and her husband, Chris, have served as a host family for eight years for Nationals minor leaguers based in Harrisburg. Barrett stayed with their family in 2013. Barrett recalled going to see the Deloziers’ son Aaron, then 12, play in a youth baseball game.

The family followed Barrett’s career up through Washington’s minor league system and once traveled to Philadelphia to see him pitch for the Nationals.

“We stayed in touch with texts back and forth,” Delozier said. “You want them to succeed, obviously.”

When she learned Barrett was headed back to Harrisburg this season, they told the pitcher he could stay in their extra bedroom again. He would just have to share a bathroom with Aaron, now 18, and 16-year-old daughter Alli.

“They are like a second family to me,” Barrett said.

Barrett’s fans aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on him. Mark Scialabba, the Nationals’ director of player development, is in charge of monitoring his progress for the organization.

“He continues to strengthen his arm,” Scialabba said. “The action on his slider is consistent. He developed a changeup while going through this process. He is not afraid to come right after hitters. He is moving in the right direction. We are really proud of him.”

Barrett made his major league debut in 2014, pitching in 50 games out of the bullpen for the Nationals. That October, he pitched in two games in the National League Division Series, and he was part of the bullpen meltdown in the Game 4 loss in San Francisco that cost the Nationals their season.

Last February, Barrett made an emotional return when he pitched in a spring training game for Washington. It was his first game on a big-league mound in about 42 months.

Barrett is convinced he can help the Nationals’ bullpen if called upon — this time in a real game.

“I have dreams about it all of the time,” he said. “I am 190% ready to go back to the big leagues and contribute and get guys out. I feel ready. It is just a matter of when they want to make the call.”

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