ARLINGTON -- It took a detour of about seven years and nearly seven thousand miles for Tony Barnette to finally make his Major League debut Tuesday night, and, like most everything else in Barnette's odyssey, it did not go exactly as planned.
The 32-year-old right-handed reliever took the mound to start the seventh inning for the Rangers and began the next chapter of a career that took him to Japan, where he converted to a reliever, became a star closer over the past few years, and ultimately caught the eye of the Texas organization that signed him last December.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister turned to Barnette to relieve starter Martin Perez, who had walked four in six innings of two-run ball.
"Tie ballgame, in that situation, a part of the lineup that we felt Tony, at this point, matches up better against, how he pitched in Spring Training, who he's been in the past," Banister said of the decision to go to Barnette. "I know it's a different league, but the things that we saw from Tony in Spring Training indicated that that would be a good situation for him. We still had to go through the heart of their lineup at least two more times. Tony, at that point, was our matchup in that situation, especially in a tie situation."
Barnette allowed a leadoff single to Mariners lefty pinch-hitter Seth Smith, then got a flyout and a strikeout. But ex-Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, whom Texas traded to Seattle in the offseason, drove home Smith with a double and then scored on left-hitting Norichika Aoki's single. That was it for Barnette, who recorded two outs while allowing two runs on three hits and ultimately shouldered the loss in the Mariners' 10-2 blowout.
"I would have liked it to be a little better, but we'll just reset and come back tomorrow," Barnette said. "Physically, I felt good. I caught too much of the plate. … I wish it would have gone better. I got it out of the way. Now we can move on. It's a little bittersweet, obviously."
A year ago, Barnette tied for the most saves in Japanese professional baseball with 41 for the Yakult Swallows of Tokyo, and posted a miniscule 1.44 ERA. That was enough to earn a two-year, $3.5 million deal with the Rangers.
Barnette is the third Ranger to make his MLB debut after the age of 30, joining Yoshinori Tateyama, another reliever who was a star in Japan, and infielder Guilder Rodriguez, a career Minor Leaguer who joined the Rangers for two weeks in the final month of their injury-ravaged 2014 season.
Barnette was Arizona's 10th-round Draft pick in 2006, but didn't pitch past Triple-A in four seasons in the D-backs' Minor League system, going 39-27 with a 4.36 ERA in 96 starts.
He then pitched six seasons in Japan, going to the bullpen after one season there. He had a 3.58 ERA in 260 games in Japan.