1,495 days. That’s how long Aaron Barrett’s journey was from his previous big league appearance in 2015 to the day he returned to a major league mound on September 7th, 2019.
After defying all the odds against him on an emotional roller coaster, he had finally made it back.
This week, across the SB Nation network, we’re looking at some of the notable sporting underdogs. There are going to be plenty of articles about teams that beat the odds, including last year’s Washington Nationals, but this theme also applies to players...
That’s where Barrett comes in. There aren’t too many players who have been through what the right-hander went through since 2016, so his determination and resolve to overcome the devastating injuries epitomizes that underdog mentality to never give up.
Coming off of an impressive rookie season, a slew of injuries derailed his sophomore season in 2015, leading to Tommy John surgery that September and the start of a lengthy rehab process.
Despite being relatively common for pitchers nowadays, recovering from that isn’t always easy or a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination.
It was during his rehab from the surgery that things really took a turn for the worse though.
In July 2016, Barrett was pitching in a simulated game at the Nats’ Spring Training facility in Viera, hoping to soon begin a minor league rehab assignment. But as he threw a pitch, his right elbow snapped in a sound players at the scene described as a gunshot sound.
His humerus was broken and needing surgery to insert 16 screws to hold it together again.
The odds of pitching in the major leagues again after Tommy John surgery? Relatively good. The odds of pitching in the majors again after a broken humerus? Almost unheard of.
Barrett didn’t care about the odds though. He was determined that he was going to pitch again.
By the time he threw another bullpen session in early 2018, it had been around 30 months since his Tommy John surgery. Slowly but surely, the path to a comeback was coming into view.
In the second half of 2018, Barrett made 20 appearances for the Nationals’ short-season affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays. The results were good, 1.74 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, but unimportant at this stage. He just needed to pitch in games again and rebuild the confidence that his arm could handle that load again.
After getting an invitation to major league spring training in 2019, Barrett was assigned to start out the season at Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators.
He was initially the team’s closer to make sure he had a clear schedule. After a few outings, they stretched him out to pitch two innings. In mid-May, they used him on back-to-back days for the first time. By mid-season, they started bringing him in mid-inning and as the season progressed as they continued to throw more challenges his way.
Come season’s end, he was fully ready for whatever situations being in the bullpen called for.
Every step along the way, Barrett was not only an inspiration to his teammates and coaches but also a leader in the dugout as a veteran presence for the younger players to lean on.
That showed when his manager at Double-A, Matt LeCroy, was filled with emotion as he delivered the news that Barrett was heading back to the big leagues...
The next day, Barrett officially had his contract selected by the team, and three days later, in the third game of a four-game set in Atlanta, he was back on a major league mound.
Starter Austin Voth departed after four innings and manager Dave Martinez called upon Barrett to pitch the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves with his team down four runs.
After walking the leadoff hitter, the right-hander retired the next three batters in order.
As soon as the third out was recorded, the emotions hit him. All of them. Tears of joy flowed as his teammates and coaches comforted him in the dugout. He finally did it.
“Obviously emotional,” Barrett explained the day after. “You’ve just got to try to find a way to kind of hone it in and realize that it’s just a game and you’ve got to go out there and make pitches.”
“I think after that first guy I kind of got the jitters out a little bit and it was time to go to work and get guys out.”
It was a moment that the right-hander had been thinking about a lot during his excruciatingly long rehab. A moment that he finally knew all the work he put in was paying off.
“You dream about the moment,” Barrett said at this year’s Winterfest.
“You try to picture the moment, you try to visualize what it’s going to be like and you —whatever moment or whatever happens it’s unlike anything you envisioned.
“And so after the outing was over I’m just walking off and I’m just you know, all the emotions just hit me, just, you know, ‘You did it, man. You did it.’”
There weren’t many dry eyes as Barrett left the mound, especially from his teammates and members of the organization. They had seen just how much work he had put into getting back, including pitching coach, Paul Menhart, who was there the day Barrett broke his humerus.
“It was just a cool moment to share with my teammates,” Barrett said.
“Obviously the amount of support that I’ve had from this organization and all these guys in this clubhouse, just a moment I’ll never forget, and that’s where the wave of emotions hit me, and it’s just a special feeling.”
His manager echoed that same sentiment about Barrett’s return after the emotional outing.
“What a moment,” Martinez said after the game. “He came in, his eyes were watery, but I was trying real hard not to cry in front of him, but it was an unbelievable moment.”
“He shared it together, we shared it with the team, he got the bugs out, but he did great.”
2019 was a season made up of truly incredible moments for the Nationals. Barrett’s return to a major league mound after 1,495 days rightly sits among some of the best of those.