Thursday evening, a reporter suggested to Ian Desmond he had “come through” for the Nationals when his grand slam in the eighth inning turned a taut contest into a blowout. “We were already winning,” Desmond answered. “Come through would have been what Aaron Barrett did.”
Barrett had faced only one batter, but it may have been the most crucial at-bat of the game. In the eighth inning, with two outs in a one-run game, Manager Matt Williams summoned Barrett to face Giancarlo Stanton. Williams has shown supreme confidence in the rookie since opening day, when he called on Barrett to make his big league debut in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game.
Barrett again validated Williams’s faith in him. He blew away Stanton with his slider, which no major league hitter has yet to find hittable, and continued an obscene beginning to his career. Barrett has faced 13 hitters this year. None have gotten a hit. One has walked. Six have struck out. Go back to spring training, and Barrett has pitched 14 2/3 scoreless major league innings.
Barrett glowers when he’s on the mound, smiles when he’s off and never seems surprised or impressed with what he’s done.
“He’s a bulldog,” Stephen Strasburg said. “He’s not scared of anybody. 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.”
“He’s tough, man,” Jayson Werth said. “He’s got good stuff. He seems like a good kid. Ninety-five with sink and a nasty slider, that’s pretty tough. But you got a guy like that to go with the guys we’ve got, gives skipper a bunch of options back there, which is good.”
Thursday, Barrett replaced Jerry Blevins, charged with protecting a 2-1 lead. Last year at Class AA Harrisburg, before the Nationals added him to the 40-man roster this winter, Barrett closed. The experience, he said, has helped him adjust to high-leverage spots in the majors.
“You definitely have to embrace it,” Barrett said. “I think in the minor leagues, closing has definitely prepared me for that situation. Obviously not to that magnitude. He’s obviously a great hitter. You just have to embrace it. My mentality is to win every pitch.”
Catcher Sandy Leon, who also teamed with Barrett at Harrisburg, told him the plan. They would lean on Barrett’s slider. So far this season, Barrett has thrown 13 sliders for strikes. One has been put in play, a fly out to center. Two have been fouled away, six have been taken and five have been whiffed at. In one outing, Evan Gattis looked at three sliders, all strikes, and before he walked back to the dugout, he told Jose Lobaton, “Wow, that’s a good slider.”
Barrett started Stanton with a slider for ball one, then another for strike one. He threw a fastball, the only heater of the at-bat, for strike three. Stanton smoked a slider down the left field line, a foul liner that had the power to decapitate.
Leon walked to the mound. “The next one better be in the dirt,” Leon told Barrett.
It was. Stanton whiffed. The inning ended. And Barrett had come through again.
FROM THE POST
Jerry Blevins knows Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are two big reasons he’s a National.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 7, Syracuse 2: Steven Souza Jr. went 1 for 4 with a home run. Brock Peterson went 2 for 4. Ryan Mattheus allowed two runs in one inning on one hit and a walk, striking out two.
Reading 2, Harrisburg 1: Michael A. Taylor went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout. Felipe Rivero allowed one run in five innings on five hits and walk, striking out three.
Potomac 7, Lynchburg 5: Brandon Miller went 1 for 3 with a walk and a home run. Oscar Tejada went 2 for 5 with a homer. Dakota Bacus allowed no runs in three relief innings on no hits and two walks, striking out one.
Hagerstown 6, Lakewood 0: Lucas Giolito allowed no runs in five innings on one hit and one walk, striking out six. Wander Suero allowed no runs in four innings on two hits and no walks, striking out two. Ike Ballou went 2 for 5 with a triple. David Masters went 3 for 4 with a triple.