Last Spring, a strong showing in ten scoreless innings of work on the mound earned right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett a spot in the Washington Nationals' Opening Day bullpen.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams liked what he saw from the then-26, now 27-year-old, 2010 9th Round pick in Grapefruit League action last year. Williams knew Barrett from the time both spent in the Arizona Fall League in 2010, and the well-rested version of the pitcher he saw last Spring was even more impressive.
"Hard sink certainly to his arm side," Williams said. "Good slider. It's more of what I saw in the Fall League, I think it's a tick up though. He's racheted it up from where I saw him last."
Barrett posted a 2.66 ERA, a 2.59 FIP, 20 walks (4.43 BB/9) and 49 Ks (10.84 K/9) in 40 ⅔ IP in his rookie campaign, which ended with a rough appearance in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Barrett threw a wild pitch to San Francisco Giants' slugger Pablo Sandoval with the go-ahead run on third then threw an intentional ball to the backstop on what ended up being his final pitch of 2014.
It was a whirlwind run for the righty.
"Going to Spring," Barrett recalled this winter, "I was told I was only going to throw a few innings and they were going to give me a look. Which, I was okay with that and then next thing I know, I've pitched ten, eleven innings, I haven't given up a run yet, I'm like, 'This is real.' And I get put on the roster and next thing you know I'm in the playoffs."
Williams talked this weekend about what he saw from Barrett over the course of the season.
"What stands out to me is his ability to get in a situation that we put him in," Williams said, "... some tough situations against some really good right-handed hitters, and have success.
"We saw that starting last year in Spring Training. We put him in those situations where he would face a tough guy because we wanted to see how he would react. And he reacted perfectly. So it just transitioned from there to the season and he wants the ball. He wants the ball in that situation. Certainly has a wipeout slider and a good fastball and can handle those situations fine. So it's more of the same. More of the same for him this year. In Spring Training he'll be put in those situations and he'll be asked to get the tough right-handed hitter out."
Barrett told MLB.com this week that this time around he made sure to prepare for a full schedule of games since he tired during his rookie campaign:
"'I’m ready for a full season,' Barrett said. 'Last year was a long season for me. It was my first year up. I had a lot of appearances, a lot of warm-ups and stuff like that. I think that is part of the process of coming up and working on that. I did as much training as I possibly could for this year.'"
Barrett spent the month of August with Washington's top affiliate at Triple-A Syracuse, where the Nationals could more easily control his appearances.
He returned to the majors in September, giving up just four hits, two walks and two unearned runs in seven innings of work in the final month of the regular season.
Williams said it was an important season in which Barrett was tested time and again in difficult/high leverage situations, including the postseason appearances.
"We look at it and those situations, you never know about those situations until you get into them," he explained.
"So not only the physical stress, but the emotional stress that goes into those for a reliever that's never been there can weigh on you. Last year he got a little bit tender, so we wanted to monitor his innings. So that helped him, getting sent down and being able to schedule him. And he came back extremely strong. He works hard. He loves to get in the weight room. And so it gave him an opportunity to get back strong again for the push the last two months. And just tells me that he wants the ball and he's ready to work on an everyday basis."