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Barrett seizing setup role but watching workload

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Barrett seizing setup role but watching workload

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.”

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What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

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USA Today Sports

What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer had a heated exchange in the Nationals dugout Friday night.

It was another not-so-great moment in an otherwise unspectacular season for the Nats so far.

Things like this often appear worse than they are based on what we can see, not hear, on television. In any case, it has fans and pundits talking about a perceived off-the-field issue instead of the actual game. There's nothing "good" about this, but there are important factors that are "bad" and ones that are "not bad."

Davey Martinez, Strasburg and Scherzer already said this has been settled and wasn't a big deal in the first place, but for a manager who's already faced some scrutiny this year for how he manages his pitchers, having two of them go at it in the dugout isn't ideal.

It also doesn't present the best optics for a team that came out of the All-Star Break 5.5 games back of the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals need to build some momentum heading into the dog days of summer, and after a lackluster first half, this isn't how anybody would want to start the second half.

This was also Strasburg's first start back from a month-long stint on the disabled list. Ryan Zimmerman just rejoined the club as well. Things are shaping up to make for a solid second-half run, but all this does is detract from that.

The Nationals also just hosted the first All-Star Game in Washington since 1969. Having something like this happen in the dugout where everybody can see it takes away from some of that good publicity.

But there are also positives, or at least non-negatives, to take from this. Scherzer has always been ultracompetitive, and as the best pitcher on the staff, he needs to harness that into leadership. With Strasburg coming off a rough inning, Scherzer may have thought he needed a little tough love from a veteran. There's nothing wrong with that. Strasburg, to his credit, has never been one to focus too much on himself, so if there's anyone who can take something like this constructively, it'd be him.

This isn't Jonathan Paplebon fighting Bryce Harper for not running out a pop fly the day after the Nats were eliminated from playoff contention. These are two veteran guys who play the same position who are both competitive and want to win. It's akin to an older brother pushing his younger brother to do better. Strasburg even hinted at the family aspect after the game.

In the end, there's really nothing to see here. Frustration is part of the game. Talking it out is a part of remedying the frustration.

What really matters is tracking down the Braves and the Phillies. The Nationals can get started on that Sunday in the second game of a rain-shortened two-game series against the Braves.

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Saturday's Nationals game rained out, to be postponed

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Saturday's Nationals game rained out, to be postponed

Following a dicey matchup between the Nats and Braves Friday night which featured a heated argument between Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are getting a much-needed opportunity to regroup.

The Washington Nationals' official Twitter account announced that Saturday evening's matchup will be postponed due to inclement weather just after 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

The Nationals had planned to host "JMU Night" at the ballpark as a part of their "College Day" series, and due to more forecasted inclement weather Sunday, the Nationals decided to call the game off sooner rather than later.

The Nationals have yet to announce when the game will be made up.

If Sunday's game is played as scheduled, Max Scherzer will start.

This post will be updated when more information regarding a makeup date has been announced.

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