The Tres Barrera who is up with the Nationals now, producing at the plate, and handling all of Washington’s pitchers behind it, is a different player than the one Davey Martinez saw in Spring Training.
“He’s been up here with a different attitude,” Martinez said after Barrera connected for his first MLB home run in Monday night’s 18-1 win over the Miami Marlins.
“He just wants to learn every day,” the manager continued. “He’s done a great job with our pitching staff, he’s out there, he’s working, he’s working on hitting with [Hitting Coach Kevin Long] and [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler] in the cages, and really took a lot of things that we talked about with him in Spring Training to heart, and worked on things, and you can see that he’s improved a lot and he’s playing well.”
What’s different with the 26-year-old catcher, who went 1 for 4 in Wednesday night’s game, leaving him 10 for 29 (.345/.387/.586) with two doubles, a triple, and a home run over nine games (seven starts) since he returned to the majors on July 4th.
“He feels like he belongs,” Martinez said, “and he’s got an opportunity now, he understands. And 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. Like I said, 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, so good for him, and like I’ve always said, I love when young hitters come up, get an opportunity to play and play the way he’s playing, and I’m not talking about just because he’s getting hits, but the way he’s playing the game, the way he’s going about his business has been awesome.”
“Since I’ve been called up I’ve been trying to do whatever I can to help the team win games,” Barrera said after connecting for his first home run in the majors.
It took injuries to both Yan Gomes and Alex Avila to get the opportunity to play consistently in the majors (he made his 4th consecutive start on Wednesday night), but Barrera said he’s doing whatever he can to take advantage of his shot.
“Oh, man, like I said, ever since I got called up, just being a part of this organization top to bottom and first going into Spring Training my mindset was I knew we had Gomes and Avila, and if I got an opportunity my job was to just come in and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Barrera said, “and this opportunity came and I’m here and I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team at this point.”
In 37 games and 138 plate appearances at Triple-A Rochester, Barrera had a .224/.324/.345 line with five doubles and three home runs. What does his manager see at the plate now in the majors?
“It’s just — like I said, he’s young, and he’s learned a lot,” Martinez said, “and he put a lot of time in in the minor leagues and he’s getting an opportunity here to play, and he’s keeping things simple, and that’s a lot [of what] we talked about with him, hey, it’s not about hitting home runs, it’s about playing the game and doing the little things.
“I’m more impressed about how he’s handling our pitchers, and how 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 and 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.”
Barrera was up in the majors early this season, when both Gomes and Avila were placed on the COVID-IL before Opening Day, but didn’t play much, getting a start in a doubleheader, and he said he took the advice Martinez gave him before the club optioned him out to heart too.
“When I came up and got sent down after those first three days,” Barrera said, “Davey really said he wanted me to work on my offensive game, and I really wanted to get better at it, and I’m still trying to get better at it working with Kevin Long and ‘Six’ [Roessler’s nickname] down there in the cage each and every day, 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 to help the team.”
The backstop said he’s also taken advantage of the opportunity to learn what he can from his fellow catchers while he’s up. The best advice he’s received?
“Just trust what you do,” Barrera said.
“Having Avila and Gomes and even [René] Rivera now in my corner, man, it’s been great.
“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, and it’s meant the world to me to have them in my corner. I’m talking to them daily about how I can get better, and they’ve done nothing but shown me a lot of love and help me out.”
Barrera’s play, Martinez acknowledge, has made the wait for Gomes and Avila to return a bit easier to weather, and though he’d, obviously, prefer to have one of his veteran catchers, he is comfortable sending Barrera out right now the way he’s handling both sides of his game.
“I am comfortable, because like I said, he’s no stranger to us neither,” the skipper explained.
“In Spring Training he has caught these guys before, he knows these guys, he knows what we’re trying to do.
“Preferably, I’ve always said this, veteran catchers understand the game, they see the game differently, but it’s a learning stage, one day Tres will be a veteran catcher as well, but right now he’s learning. We got all kinds — he’s getting advice from Avila, he’s getting advice from Yan, he’s getting advice from René Rivera, who’s been in this league a long time as well, advice from [Bullpen Coach] Henry [Blanco], [First Base Coach] Randy [Knorr], talking to [Pitching Coach] Hickey pregame, myself, so he’s getting good advice from really good people.”
While they wait for Gomes and/or Avila to return, Barrera’s getting a chance to shine.
“Barrera has done great, like I said before, he’s handled our pitching staff really, really well. I mean, funny that he got to catch Max [Scherzer] the other day, and he was so excited about it.
“And he was pumped up about it. For him, it’s an unbelievable experience. But he did really well and he caught Max.
“I talked to Max and Max said he felt like he did a great job back there with him. It’s good. This is a kid that worked really hard. He’s been working hard, worked hard in Triple-A, we talked a lot in Spring Training when we left about what he needs to do to get better, he took it to heart, and you’re seeing him now get an opportunity to play and playing well.”