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Notes: Barrett relishing 'normal'; Elías; rain

@jessicacamerato
February 15, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The offseason was different for the Nationals as they celebrated a World Series championship. For Aaron Barrett, it had another new meaning. He spent it healthy, unlike previous winters when he was rehabbing from injuries. “It was fun to be able to be normal again,”

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The offseason was different for the Nationals as they celebrated a World Series championship. For Aaron Barrett, it had another new meaning. He spent it healthy, unlike previous winters when he was rehabbing from injuries.

“It was fun to be able to be normal again,” Barrett said.

For years, Barrett’s normal was fighting to reclaim his baseball career. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015, only to suffer a broken humerus bone in ‘16 as he neared his return. Three years later, following a journey through the Minor Leagues, he was called up to the Major Leagues and pitched for Washington on Sept. 7 in an emotional comeback.

At 32, Barrett is entering his fourth big league season after three years of injuries.

“It was really good as far as not having to rehab every day, kind of getting back into being a normal guy again, being able to train like normal again, focusing on coming into camp, being healthy, and competing for a spot,” he said.

In past offseasons, Barrett was limited in his exercises and had to follow regimented throwing programs. This winter reminded him more like his old self, the player who made his Majors debut with the Nationals in March of 2014.

“It’s definitely a load off my mind, for sure,” he said. “It’s just nice to be able to come in knowing that I’m fully healthy. I’ve had a full season underneath my belt, I had a tremendous workload, and I feel completely strong and healthy, like going into when I was back in the big leagues five years ago.”

Barrett has a Major League-career 3.86 ERA over 93 games. He posted a 2.75 ERA in 50 games of Double-A ball last season. Upon his return, Barrett appeared in three games for the Nationals last season, throwing a total of 2 1/3 innings. He allowed four runs off five hits, four walks and recorded a strikeout.

“I want him to build his reps,” manager Dave Martinez said. “His [velocity] started coming back. His bullpen the other day looked like the ball was coming out really good. And [I want him to] continue building from what he did last year. Tremendous story. His comeback, I don’t think anyone has ever done what he’s done and actually pitch in the big leagues the way he did last year for us and bring the energy.

“He’s an unbelievable person, first. But he’s done so many wonderful things. I just want him to continue to develop again and be able to help us pitch in the big leagues, which I know he can.”

This opportunity is not lost on Barrett. He walks around the Nationals' training complex with a smile on his face, exuding his enthusiasm for every moment on the mound.

“Being able to come into camp healthy and ready to earn a job -- that’s what we’re here for -- go get guys out,” Barrett said. “At the end of the day, that’s all you can control. It’ll be fun to go out there and compete.”

Elías focusing on lefties
The Nationals are looking for left-hander Roenis Elías to improve this season against left-handed batters. Last year, the reliever held righties to a .181 batting average, while lefties had success to the tune of a .368 average.

To help simulate game action, bullpen coach Henry Blanco stood on the left side batter’s box in the bullpen while Elías worked on his changeup.

“Elías is a guy I’d like to see get lefties out quite a bit,” Martinez said. “He has a really good curveball. He doesn’t tend to use it as much, or he tries not to use it, especially when he falls behind. We want him to mix in his curveball a little bit more. He’s got such a good changeup. I don’t want him to be afraid of throwing it against left-handed hitters as well. We’re going to try to incorporate it this spring.”

Rain shortens workouts
Downpours hindered the Nationals on Saturday morning, but they didn’t stop the team from getting in work. The pitchers, including starter Aníbal Sánchez, were able to throw bullpen sessions off covered mounds.

“He was good,” Martinez said. “Aníbal’s Aníbal. He’s probably a little bit behind, but he threw the ball really well.”

Sánchez, in the third and final group of pitchers, was the last of the starters to throw in the bullpen in Spring Training. Many of the Nationals’ hurlers pushed their offseason training back later than usual to account for pitching late into October.

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.