WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's been more than three seasons since Aaron Barrett stepped on the mound for the Washington Nationals, robbed of so much of a once-promising career by a litany of injuries: Tommy John surgery in September 2015, another surgery later that year to remove bone spurs
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's been more than three seasons since Aaron Barrett stepped on the mound for the Washington Nationals, robbed of so much of a once-promising career by a litany of injuries: Tommy John surgery in September 2015, another surgery later that year to remove bone spurs in his left ankle and then surgery to repair a fractured elbow in '16.
Barrett has continued to rehab through it all with the aspirations of returning to the big leagues one day. He got back on the mound last summer, pitching in 20 games at Class A Short-Season Auburn, where he posted a 1.74 ERA with 26 strikeouts and eight walks. Now, Barrett is in Major League Spring Training for the first time since 2015, and after completing his first bullpen session in front of the team on Friday, he received a big hug from Paul Lessard, the team's head athletic trainer.:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"It's another milestone to check," Barrett said. "But I know what the ultimate goal is, and that's to get back to D.C. and pitch in the big leagues. So this was a good first step."
It's a small, but significant step in what has been a long and winding road back.
Barrett, 31, was a big part of the Nationals bullpen in 2014, when in 50 games he posted a 2.66 ERA to help them reach the postseason. He became a fan favorite in D.C. and made 40 appearances in '15 before the injuries struck. So many injuries have tested Barrett's faith and willingness to continue, and he admitted there were times he did not know if he would ever throw a baseball again.
Yet throughout the process, even while he spent much more time in West Palm Beach than he ever anticipated while on the Minor League side of the complex, Barrett wore a big smile on his face and remained positive. It's one of the reasons the Nationals have decided to stick with him throughout the rehab process and extended the invitation to big league camp.
"I mean, why not have a guy like that around?" manager Dave Martinez said. "A guy that's not going to quit. You learn from guys like him being around, the inspiration."
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And make no mistake, Barrett is not satisfied with making it this far. He has his eyes on one of the potential open spots in the Nationals bullpen, and he wants to return to the mound in Washington to complete his journey.
"I would be lying to you if I said I was just happy to be here," Barrett said. "My mindset has been since Day 1 to get back to the big leagues and pitch in the big leagues. … I think the Nationals know what I'm capable of when I'm healthy, and I'm here to prove that I'm healthy."
Gomes, Suzuki plan unstructured for now
No one on the Nationals has committed to any sort of strict plan for playing time between their two new catchers, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, and it sounds like it could be somewhat fluid how time is split up between the two. Gomes will likely be the primary starter, splitting time with Suzuki based on matchups, comfort level with the pitchers and whoever is more successful at the plate, especially if the Nats need an offensive boost.
"I don't think we're going to lose anything with either one of them playing," Martinez said.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.