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'Get this place rocking': Aaron Barrett pumps up Nationals Park with ceremonial first pitch

'Get this place rocking': Aaron Barrett pumps up Nationals Park with ceremonial first pitch

WASHINGTON -- Aaron Barrett had a plan going into his ceremonial first pitch Tuesday. 

He wanted to "blow the lid off [Nationals Park]."

Based on the deafening roar of the crowd when Barrett was announced -- which only grew as he paraded around the mound, pumping his arms and holding his hand to his ear to encourage the crowd  -- he succeeded. 

Matt LeCroy, the Double-A Harrisburg manager, caught the pitch ahead of the National League Wild-Card Game. He had been the first to break the emotional, long-awaited news to Barrett that he'd been called up to the majors (It was slightly outside, but that didn't matter to anyone at Nationals Park).

Davey Martinez called Barrett into his office Monday to break the news that Barrett would be delivering that first pitch -- an idea hatched by principle owner Mark Lerner. Barrett wasn't sure what to expect, and was surprised when Martinez explained the Nationals' pregame plan. 

"I was a little thrown off to be honest," Barrett said before the game Tuesday. "I'm pretty humbled by it...There are so many people that are deserving to do this...We live in a great city, we have so many military vets here and wounded warriors and people like that--but they insisted on me doing it."

Before September 2019, the last time Barrett pitched in an MLB game was early August, 2015. Since then he's fought back from Tommy John surgery and a gruesomely-broken humerus (which occurred just before he was ready to return from his rehab in 2016). 

"His story is incredible," Martinez said. "To do what he did, you don't understand what -- I don't understand, nobody can understand I mean the guy's arm pretty much fell apart and he's pitching in the big leagues again." 

While the narrative of Barrett's return is already one of victory, to the reliever it is just the start. 

Though he did not make Washington's postseason roster, his velocity is returning, his slider is solid and as long as he stays healthy he'll keep pitching, according to Martinez. 

Plus, the fans are all behind Barrett. Their support was evident in Washington's final regular-season game Sunday, when he was greeted by a standing ovation as he stepped off the mound at Nationals Park after pitching a full inning.

"The last time I was able to pitch in the big leagues was off this mound," Barrett said after Sunday's matchup. "Being able to get back off that mound again in front of the home crowd, game 162, the fans were incredible. I felt their energy and the amound of support that I've had from them all along."

For now, Barrett did what he could to help his team out in the win-or-go home matchup on Tuesday. With the crowd pumped up, Barrett knows his comeback is just the start of the rest of his career.

"It's [an] exclamation point to this season," Barrett said. "Now it's, 'Let's get back to work and get out there and compete like I know how, and be normal again.'"

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Juan Soto greets Nationals fans while dressed as Santa Claus

Juan Soto greets Nationals fans while dressed as Santa Claus

The winter can feel like one of the slowest seasons of the year, especially for baseball fans who long for the season to pick back up again.

But Nationals outfielder Juan Soto met with fans on Saturday at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia, and did his best to make them feel merry by getting in the holiday spirit.

Soto already helped give D.C. the greatest gift of all in a World Series title, so maybe he really is Mr. Claus.

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Nationals sign reliever Kyle Finnegan to major-league deal

Nationals sign reliever Kyle Finnegan to major-league deal

The Nationals announced their first move toward rebuilding their bullpen for the 2020 season Sunday, signing right-hander Kyle Finnegan to a major-league deal.

Finnegan, 28, became a free agent for the first time this winter after seven seasons in the Oakland Athletics’ minor-league system. The A’s drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 Draft out of Texas State, originally developing him as a starter until converting him into a reliever in 2016.

Oakland granted Finnegan an invite to Spring Training ahead of last season, but he never made his way onto the team’s 40-man roster. His breakout season was in 2019, when the organization asked him to lower his arm slot to generate more movement on his pitches.

Finnegan posted a 2.66 ERA with 14 saves over 42 appearances for AA-Midland and AAA-Las Vegas last year. His fastball has touched triple digits in the past but sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. His newfound success has also seen him rack up more strikeouts, as evidenced by his K/9 that jumped from 9.7 in 2018 to 12.8 in 2019.

Prior to signing with Washington, Finnegan joined the Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League. He has a 2.31 ERA in 14 appearances so far this winter.

The Nationals’ 40-man roster now sits at 30 with the addition of Finnegan following non-tenders of Javy Guerra and Koda Glover. It will move up to 32 once the signings of Yan Gomes and Howie Kendrick are made official. The move comes less than 12 hours before the MLB Winter Meetings are scheduled to begin in San Diego.

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