After a month spent tinkering and trying out different candidates, the Nationals may have found a reliable setup man at last in Aaron Barrett. Now, they just have to make sure they don’t run the right-hander into the ground from too much use.
Barrett has become among the Nationals’ effective relievers, sporting a 1.59 ERA and 0.794 WHIP in 14 appearances to date. And manager Matt Williams has begun turning to him when needing to protect an eighth-inning lead, including Saturday and Sunday during 1-0 victories in New York.
“I think success helps,” Williams said. “The fact that he’s been able to hold them and get an out when we needed it, it helps him out, and that speaks to his confidence.”
Williams has come to rely on Barrett over the last few weeks, perhaps too much. The 27-year-old’s 14 appearances entering Monday are tied for the MLB lead, leaving him on pace for a staggering 87 games pitched over a full season.
So far, Barrett has been able to manage the workload, having learned plenty as a rookie last season. Though he’s been a reliever his entire professional career, nothing could truly prepare him for life in a big-league bullpen.
“The workload as a reliever, you don’t really experience it until you get here,” he said. “You don’t really warm up and not go in, in the minor leagues. So kind of understanding how many throws you need to get hot, how many throws you need to almost get hot, it plays a large factor in trying to stay fresh every single day. You don’t really know how to do it until you go through it.”
Barrett said he’s picked up plenty of good advice from current teammates Drew Storen, Craig Stammen and Matt Thornton, plus ex-teammate Tyler Clippard. Among the most important traits to develop: How to keep enough in the reserve tank in case he needs to warm up multiple times within the same game.
For now, Barrett has done a good job handling it. If things go the way they hope, though, the Nationals won’t need to ask this much of their young right-hander the entire season.
“We don’t ideally want him to pitch that much,” Williams said. “But the game dictates what you have to do sometimes. Yesterday was kind of the situation that he’s been in a lot, where you got some big, hairy guy at the plate and we need a punch-out. And he provided it again. He had that opportunity a lot last year. We don’t want him pitching as much as we’ve pitched him. But he’s resilient, he’s strong, he’s eager to have the baseball. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be that volume.”