Updated at 5:07 p.m.
Needing to clear a roster spot for the just-acquired Asdrubal Cabrera, the Nationals decided Friday to send slumping reliever Aaron Barrett to Syracuse, hoping the rookie can iron out some kinks and refresh before his likely return to the big leagues in September.
Barrett had been among the most-pleasant surprises on the club this season, making the Opening Day roster after an impressive spring and avoiding until now a demotion for performance reasons. But the 26-year-old right-hander wasn’t the same pitcher over the last month that he was through the season’s first half: After posting a 1.67 ERA in his first 30 games, he saw that number skyrocket to 9.45 over his last 10 appearances.
“Aaron has been in a lot of pressure situations so far, and it’s not easy for a first-year pitcher to be in those situations,” manager Matt Williams said. “He’s pitched really well, but it gives us an opportunity to go down and certainly work on things and give him more of a structured environment to pitch in.”
Barrett’s slump happened to coincide with a June 30 balk called on him by umpire Joe West, who deemed the manner in which the pitcher bounced his hands together when coming set to be illegal. Barrett, who had used that maneuver throughout his rookie season without previously being questioned, felt it helped his timing before throwing a pitch. He altered his mechanics after that, and the results were 10 runs allowed in 6 2/3 innings.
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Asked if he thought the balk call played any role in Barrett’s recent struggles, Williams replied: “I don’t think it helps, let me put it that way.”
“We’re all creatures of habit, and we’re all creatures of timing in this game,” Williams continued. “If you have your comfort level up and your timing right, everything will work out. When something like that is put into the mix, it disrupts that. The fact of the matter is, regardless of any of that, if you don’t get your slider where you want to get it to, or your fastball where you want to get it to, you tend to give up base hits. But it was certainly something different for him. So we’ve encouraged him to go work on that as well.”
The decision to send Barrett down and keep fellow right-hander Blake Treinen (who had been working as a starter at Syracuse) in the big-league bullpen was made in part to adjust Ross Detwiler’s role. Used primarily as a long reliever so far this season, Detwiler now is freed up for shorter work in later innings, with Treinen and Craig Stammen still available for multiple innings.
“Det’s pitched really well,” Williams said. “So we want to get him in some higher-leverage, lefty-lefty situations.”