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Barrett in tears after 1st appearance since '15

Righty strikes out Acuna in emotional return to Majors
@JamalCollier
September 8, 2019

ATLANTA -- Aaron Barrett spent so much time picturing this moment. It’s what motivated him during the countless, monotonous hours of rehab, the moments of self-doubt, the hurdles big and small he had to clear just to get to Saturday night at SunTrust Park. And yet, after all that time

ATLANTA -- Aaron Barrett spent so much time picturing this moment.

It’s what motivated him during the countless, monotonous hours of rehab, the moments of self-doubt, the hurdles big and small he had to clear just to get to Saturday night at SunTrust Park. And yet, after all that time spent playing out in his head what it would be like when, not if, he made his return to a big league mound, it still could not compare to reality.

Pitching in his first big league game in more than four years, Barrett tossed a scoreless fifth inning in the Nationals' 5-4 loss to the Braves, rebounding from a leadoff walk to retire the next three batters, including a strikeout of Ronald Acuña Jr. on three pitches. After he walked off the mound and walked back into the dugout, Barrett sat on the bench, broke down and cried into a towel.

“After the outing was over, I'm just walking off and all the emotions just hit me,” Barrett said. “Just, ‘You did it, man. You did it.’”

He did it, after working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2015. He did it, after suffering a broken humerus in ’16, an injury so devastating those in attendance said it sounded like a “full-on gunshot” when he broke the bone. He did it, after working his way all the way back through the Minors, from Class A Short-Season Auburn to a successful ‘19 with Double-A Harrisburg where he posted a 2.75 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings. That earned him a promotion to Washington on Wednesday -- an emotional moment in and of itself -- after rosters expanded.

Just getting back to the big leagues would have been enough to tie a knot on this incredible story, however, Barrett maintained all along that getting back was not all he wanted to do. He thought he could help the Nationals, and manager Dave Martinez has made it clear Barrett was promoted to Washington in order to pitch.

Twice earlier this week, Barrett started warming up in the bullpen, but he never made it into the game.

But Martinez found what he felt was the perfect opportunity after Austin Voth went just four innings Saturday. The skipper opted to use Barrett in the fifth inning of a one-run game in a crucial series, in front of a sold-out crowd of 40,467 fans at SunTrust Park.

“I was like OK, this is actually happening,” Barrett said. “So, let’s go to work.”

Barrett missed with his first four pitches to walk the leadoff hitter, light-hitting Adeiny Hechavarria. He threw a fifth straight ball to Julio Teheran before he took a deep breath to collect himself. After getting Teheran to pop out on a bunt attempt, Barrett struck out Acuna on three pitches, freezing him with a changeup for the third strike.

This was Barrett’s first big league strikeout since Aug. 1, 2015, a span of 1,499 days. When Barrett last pitched in the big leagues, Acuna had just begun his professional career, playing in his 29th game in the Gulf Coast League.

Ozzie Albies flew out to center field for the final out, ending Barrett’s outing on 14 pitches.

“Man, what a moment,” Martinez said. “He came in, his eyes were watery, and I was trying really hard not to cry in front of him. It was an unbelievable moment. We shared it together, we shared it with the team, and he did great. We got the bugs out, and he did great.”

Not much has gone right this weekend in Atlanta for the Nationals, who need a win Sunday afternoon to avoid a four-game sweep. But Barrett, who lives outside of Atlanta, has been one of the lone bright spots.

He had a cheering section of his own in attendance Saturday night, including his parents, two brothers, wife, mother- and father in-law, brother-in-law and physical therapist. Several coaches and teammates came up to Barrett to congratulate and embrace him after his outing.

“You dream about the moment,” Barrett said. “You picture the moment, you try to visualize what it's going to be like, and you know whatever moment or whatever happens, it’s unlike anything you envisioned.

“It was just a cool moment to share with my teammates. Obviously, the amount of support that I've had from this organization and all the guys in this clubhouse, [it’s] just a moment I'll never forget. That’s when the wave of emotions hit me. It’s just a special feeling.”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.