The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After freak elbow fracture, Aaron Barrett says he now has a ‘bionic arm’

Aaron Barrett in 2015. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Aaron Barrett didn’t see where the ball went, though the story goes that it flew off to the right, a nightmarish iteration of arm-side run. He still cannot see where his career is going — or more accurately when it will get there — because even after his right arm snapped a few weeks before he planned for a September call-up, Barrett is determined to find his way back to the big leagues.

“I was so close. I was a week away from going on my rehab assignment. There was a finish line, you know what I mean?” Barrett said. “I watch the game every night, and seeing how well everyone’s doing, you want to get back and help the team. You kind of see that finish line, and when it all kind of comes to a halt like that … at first, I questioned why. As things kind of calmed down, I kind of understood that everything happens for a reason, as hard as that is to grasp or believe.”

Barrett, who underwent Tommy John surgery last September and targeted a September return, was pitching in a one-inning simulated game in Viera in late July. He was supposed to throw 20 pitches. On his 11th, the whole plan changed.

“Fastball away,” Barrett said. “As I’m accelerating, it just snapped.”

Barrett had been throwing 92-93 miles per hour in a few simulated games before that. In that one, he said, he had finally found the “last-second whip” at the end of his arm action that allowed him to get that extra zip.

“They said I was throwing really hard that day, but I went to throw and it just snapped,” Barrett said. “There may or may not have been a few guys vomiting on the side as it happened.”

What exactly happened? Nationals public relations representatives did not allow him to say exactly, but the basic injury was a right elbow fracture.

“I didn’t have anything leading up to it as far as any indication that something like that would happen,” Barrett said. “Just total freak thing.”

Barrett had surgery, conducted by Dr. James Andrews, to repair the trouble July 25. With substantial scars visible beneath the sleeves of the T-shirt he wore to Nationals Park for photo day Friday, the right-hander said the trouble was not with his surgically repaired ligament. Though he had never broken a bone before, he had a sense something was broken after he felt the snap and dropped to his knees on the mound that day.

“It was traumatizing. It was like someone hit me in the gut like a million times,” Barrett said. “It sucks. It still does, but at the same time, literally I have a bionic arm now, and I’m literally going to come back stronger than ever.”

The 28-year-old has now had two elbow surgeries in less than a year, far more than the recommended dosage, and has not pitched in a major league game since Aug. 5, 2015. After appearing in 30 of the Nationals’ first 60 games last season, he began to experience right elbow pain and landed on the disabled list after the pain escalated and he felt numbness in his arm. The right-hander has made 90 career appearances for the Nationals, all in relief, and has pitched to a 3.47 ERA while averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He does not know when he will pitch again, though as he smiled and laughed his way through his story Friday, he seemed certain he will do so.

“Don’t have an exact timetable, just because of the rarity of the injury,” Barrett said. “The only thing really I can say is I’ve been making amazing progress, and I’m definitely ahead of the curve as far as my rehab goes. … They expect 100-percent recovery.”