A sling wrapped around an Ole Miss polo shirt held Aaron Barrett’s right arm as he walked around the Nationals’ clubhouse Saturday afternoon, checking in with teammates for the first time after successful Tommy John surgery on Thursday. He showed off a jar of bone chips Dr. James Andrews removed from his right elbow. Andrews also had to shave down a bone spur.
“I take pride in taking the ball every day and not saying no because I want to be that durable reliever,” Barrett said. “When I look back on what I had in my elbow at the time and continued to pitch through it, it kind of shocks me a little bit. Probably shouldn’t have been doing that, but that’s just kind of the way I am.”
Barrett began having trouble with that elbow in June, a problem officially called a right biceps strain, and missed a month. He returned to the bullpen in mid-July, but continued to battle discomfort while enduring a heavy workload. Barrett appeared in 25 of the first 50 games, and warmed up for several more. He does not think pitching through the trouble made the injury worse, as doctors told him “something had been going on for quite some time.”
“I don’t think something specifically happened in a game. I just think over the wear of a season, it continued to get worse,” Barrett said. “We’re all gonna have — every reliever in here has something going on. We all have aches and pains. It’s a long season. I was just trying to grind through it the way I have with other stuff before, and unfortunately it turned out to be a lot worse than we all wanted it to be.”
Barrett last pitched Aug. 5 against the Diamondbacks, a third of an inning for which he had a handful of pitches to warm up. After he allowed three earned runs on four hits and got one out, the Nationals optioned him to Class AAA Syracuse. A few days later, they voided the option and placed him on the disabled list with a right elbow sprain instead. Nationals Manager Matt Williams said the team didn’t know Barrett was still battling elbow trouble at the time because he did not tell them until after they optioned him.
Then came the decision to have surgery, which proved extensive, and included the removal of those bone spurs and elimination of the spur as well as a replacement of his ulnarcollateral ligament. Barrett began some gripping and shoulder exercises the day after the procedure, and will be out of his cast on Wednesday. Then, doctors will put on a splint, allowing long-term recovery to begin.
“They don’t waste any time getting things going with range of motion,” Barrett said. “The first couple weeks are pretty crucial in terms of getting range of motion back. So we start building up exercises from there. I think three to six months I’ll be in the brace.”
The projected recovery time from Tommy John surgery is anywhere between 12 and 18 months. Barrett did not rule out the minimum, which would allow him to return late next season. He may opt instead to take another offseason to recover, in which case he would be nearer the 18-month recovery and would be ready for the 2017 season.