Baseball may be a team sport, but the partnership between a pitcher and a catcher stands apart. Nationals No. 5 prospect Wil Crowe and No. 21 Tres Barrera combined on something special for Double-A Harrisburg in a matinee Wednesday.
Crowe took a perfect game into the sixth inning and finished with one hit allowed and five strikeouts over six scoreless frames, while Barrera went 4-for-4 with two homers, a double and all five RBIs in the Senators' 5-1 win over Hartford at FNB Field.
Harrisburg's right-handed starter knew it was a special day when he felt something click -- there was a little more crispness on the final 10 pitches of his bullpen session before the game.
"[The Nationals] have always harped on following through on your pitches," said Crowe (2-0). "Don't cut them off. In my mind, I always thought I had done that. But it goes to show you have to work a little bit harder to get where you need to be. I just had to go that little bit further to get the ball to that outside corner to righties or find the zone as well as I did. I thought all four pitches were good, and I really felt a lot more in sync."
Gameday box score
He carried that into the game by retiring the first 17 Yard Goats he faced. That perfect-game bid came to an end with two outs in the sixth when Arvicent Perez, pinch-hitting for Hartford pitcher Jack Wynkoop, laced a hard grounder toward the left side of the infield. Third baseman Ian Sagdal gathered the ball but stumbled on the throw, putting it wide of first. The hustling Perez was credited with a knock all the same. Crowe got Manuel Melendez to ground back to the mound to end the inning and his outing after six innings. He threw 67 pitches, 46 for strikes.
It was that level of command and control that both Crowe, who has above-average potential with his fastball, curveball and changeup, and Barrera credited for the 2017 second-rounder's success Wednesday -- things that Crowe was lacking during his first turn in the Eastern League last season when he had a 15/16 K/BB ratio over five starts (26 1/3 innings). In this second outing of 2019, he threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 19 batters he faced and didn't walk a single batter.
"Last year I came up and thought I had good stuff, but I was being a little too picky," Crowe said. "I was a little bit off the plate too much and not being as aggressive as I should have been. Now, I've decided I'm going to go right at guys and let the movement of my pitches do its own thing. It's a lot easier to pitch 1-2, 0-2 than it is 3-1, 3-2 or whatever in those hitter's counts."
"His fastball command was right there today," Barrera said. "Sometimes, he can lose feel for that, but today, he was moving up, down, in, out. When that's happening, he can almost throw almost anything else because hitters have to be so worried about the fastball. It really clicked today."
While Crowe was leading Harrisburg on defense, Barrera seized his opportunities to lead the offensive attack. Batting from the right side, the 24-year-old backstop hit a two-run homer the other way in the fourth inning off the southpaw Wynkoop for his first longball of the 2019 season. Four frames later, he went deep again, this time with a three-run shot to left off left-handed reliever Ben Bowden. It was the second two-homer game of Barrera's four-year Minor League career, the other coming Aug. 26, 2017 with Class A Hagerstown. The University of Texas product also tied his career high with the four hits, having added a single in the second and a double in the sixth.
Video: Sens catcher Barrera hits three-run blast
Primarily a defensive catcher, Barrera, who hit .263/.334/.386 in 68 games last season with Class A Advanced Potomac, has yet to reach double-digits in homers in a single Minor League season, but perhaps Wednesday's power surge is a sign of bigger things to come.
"The biggest thing for me is swinging at strikes," said Barrera, who is 11-for-19 (.579) over his first five games. "See the ball over the plate, use the whole field, trusting my approach no matter the count. I can't get in my own way like that. ... [Power] is something I've always had in the tank, but it's something that hasn't always clicked in games. To make that happen, I just need to see pitches in the zone and get my body in the right position, stay short to the ball and make contact."
This isn't the first time Barrera and Crowe have combined forces in the season's first week. Barrera was also the backstop when Crowe allowed one earned run on three hits and two walks over five innings in last Thursday's season opener against Bowie. But both are hoping this is just the start of what could be a special 2019 season.
"I'm just going to keep trying to remember this feeling," Barrera said. "There are going to be a lot of ups and downs over a long season, I know that. But I need to be free, easy, see the ball. Whenever I struggle, I should remember this and try to get back to it as best I can."
"I just have to keep going," Crowe said. "After the first one, it was good to have that one out of the way. It kind of broke the streak, I guess. Now, it's back to business."