Barmes' homer backs Morton in 3-1 Pirates victory
SAN FRANCISCO — When Clint Barmes was at the lowest point of his offensive struggles earlier year, benched in favor of rookie Jordy Mercer in late June, he began taking out his frustration during a batting practice session in Seattle.
There at Safeco Field, Barmes employed a leg kick to transfer as much weight and energy as he could into his swing, and a funny thing happened: He began driving the ball again.
The Pirates' shortstop used the leg kick to launch a key three-run home run into the left field seats off Giants starter Madison Bumgarner in the seventh inning Friday, providing all the offense in a 3-1 Pirates victory at AT&T Park.
“It's working since I made that adjustment,” Barmes said. “I've been able to see balls better and make better contact. I'm going to hold onto it as long as I can.”
Barmes' fourth homer of the season made everyone's day in the visitors' dugout.
With the win, the Pirates remained alone in first place in the NL Central, holding a one-game lead over the Cardinals, who also won Friday, and extending their lead to 3 1⁄2 games over the Reds, who lost to Milwaukee.
“We've had different guys show up at different times all season,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
The leg kick has helped Barmes raise his slugging percentage 100 points in the second half of the season. It's allowed him to regain a share of playing time at shortstop, and it gave the Pirates much-needed offense on a night when it appeared one run was all Bumgarner would require to lead the Giants to a series-evening victory.
Leading up to Barmes' shot, Bumgarner had dominated a depleted Pirates lineup that was again without Starling Marte and was also without Pedro Alvarez, who was given a night off.
Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton didn't need much help.
With Jeff Locke's second-half struggles, Wandy Rodriguez's sore elbow, and Gerrit Cole still refining himself as a rookie, there's little doubt Morton is the club's third-best starting pitching option.
Morton tossed his fourth straight start of at least six innings and two runs or fewer, apparently putting behind him mechanical inconsistencies that plagued him in July.
Morton has produced a 2.28 ERA over his last 27 2⁄3 innings.
Over his last four starts, Morton has produced 43 groundouts and five fly outs.
Ground Chuck, indeed.
Morton has one of the best sinkers in the game, a pitch that sits in the low 90s with a tremendous amount of late movement. If he had enough innings to qualify, he would lead baseball in groundball rate at 68.2 percent. The next closest pitcher would be Indians starter Justin Masterson at 59.4 percent.
Morton again induced opposing batters to smash the ball into the ground. The Giants didn't lift a ball in the air until Bumgarner began the third with a broken-bat single to left. Morton's two-seam fastball also got in on the hands of Joaquin Arias and Hunter Pence, breaking their bats.
Morton recorded 12 groundouts Friday and allowed just two fly outs. Morton allowed seven hits and one run over 7 2⁄3 innings, his longest start since coming back from Tommy John surgery.
“I felt good,” Morton said. “I was pretty efficient.”
Said Hurdle: “First-pitch strikes (20 of 29) were really good. Quick contact. Charlie pitching to his strengths.”
Morton also worked in his curveball, twice striking out Giants left-handed hitter Gregor Blanco swinging. Morton said his next step is to better mix in his changeup, a pitch that was ineffective and he only threw a handful of times Friday.
The only run off Morton came in the fourth when Buster Posey lined a fastball that caught too much of the plate into right-center for a double and scored on a bloop single by Roger Kieschnick that Mercer misplayed.
It was the only damage off Morton. He allowed just two extra-base hits, the other an eighth-inning double to Brandon Crawford. He was relieved by lefty Tony Watson who struck out Brandon Belt to end the threat. Mark Melancon came on for the save in the ninth.