Less than a dozen games into his big league career, yet two years after his debut, Tres Barrera is on a roll.
A day after scoring his first career walk-off run in his ninth career game, the Washington Nationals’ rookie catcher belted his first career homer off former Nats’ left-hander Ross Detwiler in an 18-1 win over Miami on Monday night.
He was also behind the plate for left-hander Jon Lester’s finest start of the season, allowing six hits over seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts.
“Oh, man! Kind of blacked out running the bases. I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit, put a couple runs together early,” Barrera gushed to reporters on his postgame Zoom call.
Barrera’s big hit was part of the Nationals’ season-high offensive output, in a year where he unexpectedly started in the major leagues, then was quickly sent to the minors.
“He’s been up here with a different attitude, he just wants to learn every day,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Monday’s game.
Barrera has been in the Nationals’ minor league system since being drafted in the sixth round in 2016, and had two hitless big league at-bats in September of the Nats’ 2019 World Series championship season. He also spent time with the big league club without playing in the 60-game 2020 season.
But in what looked to be another year in the minors for Barrera this season, injuries to the team’s veteran catching corps led to 26-year-old’s first significant playing time in the big leagues.
Barrera didn’t make the big league club out of Spring Training, but he wound up being on the Opening Day roster when catchers Yan Gomes and Alex Avila were among the players who started the season on the Injured List in a COVID outbreak.
After spending April 6-9 on the active roster and going 0-for-2 in 2-0 loss to Atlanta in the second game of an April 7 doubleheader, Barrera was sent to Class AAA Rochester.
“When I came up and got sent down after those first three days, Davey [Martinez] really said he wanted me to work on my offensive game, and I really wanted to get better at it,” Barrera said.
Barrera re-joined the big league club on July 3, when the team placed backup Alex Avila on the injured list with bilateral calf strains.
A week later, starting catcher Yan Gomes suffered an oblique strain and would go on the IL at the All-Star break.
“He feels like he belongs, and he’s got an opportunity now, he understands,“ said Martinez.
“He’s doing everything he can to show us and show his teammates that he belongs up here and he wants to play, and it’s awesome.”
“I really wanted to get better at it, and I’m still trying to get better at it working with [Hitting Coach] Kevin Long and [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler] down there in the cage each and every day,” Barrera said. “I get here early, and I want to keep getting better, I know that I have a long way to go, but just trying to put good at bats together, get on base, and do whatever I can.”
Martinez said Barrera is doing more than putting in the work.
“He’s been a student of the game, he’s sitting down, he’s being very vocal in meetings and he’s talking a lot about the kind of hitter that he should be, that he wants to be, and he’s working at it.”
Barrera’s first career hit came on July 4 against former National Blake Treinen, in a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers.
His first multi-hit game came the next time he was in the lineup, July 9 against San Francisco, when he also collected his first extra-base hit, a triple off the Giants’ José Álvarez.
Five games later, including two more multi-hit contests, Barrera is carrying a .313/.389/.438 line in July, and a .278/.350/.389 for the season.
Even with those numbers, Martinez is more impressed with the way Barrera is handling the pitching staff.
“He’s blocking balls and getting down and doing all the little things that we’ve asked him to do when we left Spring Training, so it’s been a lot of fun to watch him,” said the manager.
“He plays with a lot of energy. So it’s great. And he’s brought energy to our clubhouse and to the game as well.”
Lester said he’s impressed with the way Barrera is learning.
“He did a great job tonight, especially, I mean, he’s on the fly, he’s learning this stuff on the fly, and coming up big with his first homer of his career, which is awesome to see,” Lester said. “We worked well tonight. Communication was awesome, and we had good results, so that’s always an added bonus.”
Barrera credits the Nats’ veteran catching corps with helping him develop.
“Having Avila and Gomes and even [René] Rivera now in my corner, man, it’s been great,” Barrera said. “Those guys have been around this game for a while and caught some the best and have been All-Stars, and they’ve taken me under their wing and helped me every step of the way.”