Aaron Barrett entered last night's game in the eighth inning with the Washington Nationals up 7-2 over the Colorado Rockies. The Nats' 26-year-old rookie reliever retired the first batter he faced, then issued a one-out walk to Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
With Justin Morneau up, Barrett went into the stretch with a runner on first, then double-pumped with his hand in his glove. It was at that point that home plate umpire Joe West stood up from behind catcher Wilson Ramos and pointed to the mound.
"Balk. That's a balk," West said, heard fairly clearly on the MASN broadcast. West motioned that the Nats' reliever came set twice.
West called a balk on Barrett. Morneau moved up a base.
West heard it from the Nationals' dugout immediately. Both Nationals' manager Matt Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty yelled out toward home plate.
The rookie reliever appeared confused, but he stood and waited for things to sort themselves out as Ryan Zimmerman joined the discussion and Williams came out of the dugout to chat with West.
"He does it every time," Williams told reporters after the game.
"I don't know if Joe has been on a crew where he's pitched. But he does that every single time that he comes in to pitch. So I tried to explain to him that that's his normal thing. And I asked Joe if he would call it again if he did it again and he said, 'Yes.' I don't have any response for that other than to say, 'Okay, then we'll have to change it.'
"But we've all seen him pitch a lot and that's kind of his normal set-up. Everybody has a different way of going about it, but Joe thought it was a balk so we made the adjustment while he was out there. [McCatty] went out and made the adjustment."
Barrett made the adjustment, but was pretty clearly uncomfortable. Morneau singled to move Tulowitzki to third and he scored on a wild pitch in Ryan Wheeler's two-out at bat.
Tough as it appeared for Barrett to make the adjustment to his delivery in-game with runners on, he managed to limit the damage and complete a 14-pitch, five-strike frame. Williams said afterwards it wasn't easy for the right-hander to suddenly change things up.
"It's rhythm," Williams explained. "This game is all about rhythm. And so he had to adjust and it gets in your mind a bit, because you don't want to balk again and send the guy to third base. But there's no response. If he interprets that as a balk then we'll have to change. And that's what he did."
Is it a change Barrett will have to make permanently? Or only when Joe West is behind the plate? Is it a balk?