ShareThis Page

Kovacevic: More, please, from Barajas, Barmes

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 12:50 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes returns to the dugout past manager Clint Hurdle after grounding out during the second inning Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at PNC Park. Barmes went 0 for 3 to lower his average to .159. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates catcher Rod Barajas strikes out to end the second inning against Washington Tuesday May 8, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates catcher Rod Barajas returns to the dugout between hitting coach Gregg Ritchie and manager Clint Hurdle after striking out to end the second inning against Washington Tuesday May 8, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Only once in the 126-year history of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club has the offense averaged fewer than three runs per game. That was 1917, Honus Wagner's farewell season. The average was 2.96.

The current group, which makes contact with a baseball about as often as the ghost of the great Dutchman might, is averaging 2.86 runs.

It's been that bad.

And no part of it has been worse than the bottom of the Pirates' order, where Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes have brought up the rear in just about every offensive category in Major League Baseball.

How bad?

When Barajas stepped into the box at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday at PNC Park, he lugged along a .127 average, zero home runs, zero RBI in 63 at-bats and the fresh memory of being booed by the 10,324 on hand with his previous at-bat.

Wait. It gets worse.

There were two outs in the ninth. The Pirates trailed Washington by a run. And, as fate would have it, Barajas would be in line to make the final out of another flat-liner of a defeat, this one all the more painful because Joel Hanrahan had just blown a lead in the top half.

Yeah, that bad.

Then, at 9:43 p.m., Barajas tore into a Henry Rodriguez fastball and lasered it into the base of the left-field rotunda.

He was touching 'em all.

Bottoms up and sky high.

Pirates 5, Nationals 4.

“What a feeling,” Barajas said, traces of whipped cream outlining his eyes courtesy of A.J. Burnett, who still had one accurate toss in him after 10 strikeouts. “I've been working hard. This was nice.”

It will be even nicer if it's a precursor of an all-out revival — or resurrection, really — of the bottom of the order.

The Pirates' total of 83 runs isn't just last in the majors. It's the lowest — better sit down for this — of any team in professional baseball. Yeah, all 150 of 'em, from the Savannah Sand Gnats to the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Only the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings are even close, with 91 runs.

Sure, Pedro Alvarez is coming alive, and the rest of the top six are, at worst, near expectations. But here's the rub: The No. 7 spot in the order is batting .179, which ranks 28th of 30 teams. And the No. 8 spot is batting .167, which is dead last and, tellingly, tied to the decimal point with the Pirates' No. 9 spot.

That's entire innings being forfeited at a time.

And that falls almost entirely on Barajas and Barmes.

As Clint Hurdle adroitly put it, “We need to be able to score runs from anywhere in the lineup. Obviously, we've had challenges at 7 and 8. We've got two experienced guys who've fared better. They understand. They're not happy. They know we've got to improve.”

Better believe they know it.

These guys aren't Jeromy Burnitz. They're not the type to casually collect their retirement checks and call it a career. I can tell you — and those who booed — from my interviews with these two players and their teammates and coaches that they are tireless workers trying everything to get right.

Barmes, off to a .159 start, is in the batting cage so often he'll soon seek naming rights.

“If that were the ticket to getting hits,” he said, “I think I'd be doing pretty well right now.”

As it is ...

“The bottom of the lineup comes up a lot of times with a chance to do something, and ... hey, I fall right into that. I haven't done my part.”

Barajas' approach has been little different, except that he's also had to stay upbeat while working with the pitchers.

“I guarantee you, as much as this is driving me crazy, I don't think the guys see it,” he said. “They have no idea how much I want to do better, how unhappy I am with where I'm at. But I've got to put on that face.”

None of us can know if Barajas' moment will be more than exactly that. But I do feel richly confident in predicting that their biggest fan all summer will be one Neal Huntington.

Remember, these were his top position players acquired in free agency this past winter: Barajas for a year at $4 million, Barmes for two years and $10 million.

Recite with me the list of Huntington's free-agent hitting flops: Ramon Vazquez. Chris Gomez. Ryan Church. Bobby Crosby. Eric Hinske. Lyle Overbay. Matt Diaz. Go ahead and count Aki Iwamura, too. His rights were acquired from Tampa Bay as part of an agreement to sign him the same day.

Those eight, plus Barajas, Barmes and the .211 return of Nate McLouth, are all of the outside hitters Huntington has signed on major league terms.

The 11 players' combined contribution over 1,735 at-bats in Pittsburgh: .223 average, 20 home runs, 150 RBI. That's a home run a month, basically.

Their combined cost: $30.35 million, including $7.13 million in buyouts or assumed cost to get rid of Vazquez, Iwamura, Overbay, Hinske and Diaz.

Wasting even more money and more at-bats ... well, let's see what Barajas' blast brings.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.