Stephen Strasburg had his choice of catchers and games for his 2021 debut last week.
With a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the Nationals’ 2009 No. 1 overall pick considered his options and chose to pitch the second game of the twin bill with catcher Tres Barrera behind the plate.
“I got a chance to throw to Tres probably a couple years ago on some rehab assignment for something,” Strasburg explained, “and just the way he calls a game, the way he receives the ball, that was one thing that I really noticed even back then when he was in — I think he was in Potomac or something like that. He’s just a good dude. He’s a great guy to work with, and when I saw the options I definitely wanted to go out there and throw to him just because we do have some experience, believe it or not.”
Stephen Strasburg, Ridiculous 88mph Changeup.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 7, 2021
h/t several pic.twitter.com/JlusMvZtvf
Barrera, 26, and a 2016 sixth round pick by the Nationals, made the Opening Day roster with both Yan Gomes and Alex Avila placed on the IL and in quarantine as part of the club’s COVID crisis.
Jonathan Lucroy, who signed with the team last Monday and was designated for assignment last night, caught the first two games of the three-game series with the Braves, and Barrera got the call for their third game in two days, after the series opener originally scheduled for Monday was postponed.
Strasburg went six strong in what ended up a 2-0 loss, giving up just one hit in a scoreless 2021 debut in which he walked two and struck out eight batters, throwing 85 pitches total, 48 for strikes.
Stephen Strasburg, Wicked 87mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/AaxN061SBo— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 7, 2021
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez liked what he saw from the battery.
“[Barrera] caught Stras in Spring Training, so Stras knew him. Stras wanted to throw to him which was kind of nice. They’ve been talking for a couple days, and getting a game plan together, and he went out there with a game plan and did really well,” Martinez said.
Did Strasburg actually remember anything from that random rehab start with Barrera back in Potomac or wherever it was, that helped him while he was working with the backstop in the start in D.C. on Wednesday?
“Not really, no,” he acknowledged, “... but I mean, again, here in every Spring Training, it’s nice, even when I might not be throwing to him in a game and stuff, but he’s always there in the bullpen ready to catch you, and he works hard, and I think he appreciates the craft of calling a game and working with a pitcher, and he just gives you extra confidence out there.”
Martinez said they worked well together and seemed to be on the same page as Barrera did his best to guide Strasburg through the outing.
“Very in sync with Stras,” the manager said.
“I loved the way he called the game. He did a great job. I didn’t see Stras shake him off. He had a great game plan. He blocked some really good balls. I was very impressed with what Tres did.”
Barrera was optioned in advance of this past weekend’s series in LA, but traveled with the team as part of the taxi squad. So he’s hanging around for now. Will he get another opportunity?
With Avila and Gomes back it might not come any time soon, but he made a strong impression given his first chance this season to step in and help the club.