Pirates shortstop Barmes is enjoying uptick in offense
By Travis Sawchik
Published: Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
The adjustment was made out of frustration and out of necessity.
For the first half of the season, Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes struggled to drive the ball. While his glove remained reliable at shortstop, his bat had gone so cold — he had a .293 slugging percentage — he lost his starting job June 17 to rookie Jordy Mercer.
It was during batting practice in Seattle in late June when an answer-seeking Barmes tried something different. He tried to transfer as much weight, as much energy, and release as much frustration as he could into his swings. The adjustment began with a leg lift.
“It was one of those slow-pitch softball hacks and see what happens. It was more out of frustration than anything,” Barmes said. “It was funny. I just picked my leg up about as high as I could and came down and hit a line drive with backspin. I went, ‘Wow, so that's what that feels like.' ”
On June 30 in Milwaukee, Barmes took the new approach into a game. He squared up three balls, including a double.
“I found the barrel consistently in three at-bats, and I was like, ‘I think I can do this,' ” Barmes said.
Barmes produced as many doubles in July (six) as he had during the first three months of the season. He hit .296 in July, his best average in a month since he hit .313 in June 2010 when he called the thin air of Coors Field home.
Along with his surge in power came an increase in playing time. Barmes has started 11 of 18 games since the All-Star break and 14 of the Pirates' past 21.
Barmes would not be the first player to benefit from a leg kick. The Pirates know the history of Jose Bautista well and how he went from a so-so player in Pittsburgh to a star in Toronto after he adopted a leg kick.
“The last few years I've gone no stride, and there were stretches where the timing was good. But it was obviously not as consistent as I was hoping and planning for (this season),” Barmes said. “(The leg kick) definitely helps my timing … I'm not worried about getting beat or blown up by a fastball. I do it early enough, I can recognize the pitch and get (my foot) down early enough that I can put a swing on it.”
Barmes last employed a leg kick in 2009 in Colorado, though it was not as pronounced. It helped him hit a career-best 23 home runs.
“He made a little mechanical adjustment with the leg kick,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I like the way (Barmes) is swinging the bat.”
If Barmes continues to produce offensively, he could take more playing time from Mercer. Barmes is considered the superior defensive player. Hurdle said Mercer will continue to play, but Barmes' adjustment has helped him regain playing time.
“They are both playing well. Right now, we are kind of going on a case-by-case matchup basis,” Hurdle said. “It's not a platoon. We're going to figure it out and keep both of them playing.”
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