SAN FRANCISCO — Pirates fans are used to seeing Clint Barmes picking it at shortstop. Now he’s kicking it.
The right-handed batter has made a mechanical adjustment to his swing, kicking up his left leg as the pitch approaches. The result? Better hitting, shown by Barmes swatting a three-run home run San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. It was the only extra-base hit Bumgarner allowed over his eight strong innings Friday night.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch by any means,” Barmes said about Bumgarner’s low-inside slider. “I’ll take that result every time, though.”
Pirates starter Charlie Morton did not need any more run support than Barmes’ shot in the Bucs’ 3-1 road win over the Giants. In his longest outing since August 8, 2011 (coincidentally also at AT&T Park), Morton efficiently worked his 7.2 innings and walked only one batter on just 83 pitches.
“I do feel like my sinker is that good, where I can throw it a lot, get a lot of ground balls and be efficient,” Morton said. “Thing is, I have to work ahead, I still have to execute it. It’s not a free pass.”
Morton only had one inning in which he allowed a runner in scoring position. Defending National League MVP Buster Posey laced a 4th-inning double off Morton’s fastball then scored on a Roger Kieschnick pop-up single that third baseman Jordy Mercer could not track down.
Other than that missed fly, Morton had plenty of great defensive help. That’s not unusual, but the group of infielders he had was unique this season.
- Catcher Russell Martin
- First baseman Gaby Sanchez
- Second baseman Neil Walker
- Shortstop Clint Barmes
- Third baseman Jordy Mercer
Martin threw out two baserunners at second base to take his MLB-high number of caught stealings to 26. Morton’s sinker/curveball combination had the right outcome, as Barmes and the Pirates’ infield turned 12 of his 15 ground balls into outs.
“It’s always fun to play by a guy [when] you gotta be ready,” Barmes said. “When he gets the ball, he is ‘toe to the rubber’ and ready to throw. It makes it nice, especially when a guy attacks the zone and you get a lot of ground-ball work.”
Barmes’ home run timing was perfect. Tony Sanchez was in the on-deck circle to bat for Morton in the Top 6th, which would have sent the issue to the bullpen instead of allowing the starter to continue his great work.
It also finally got to Bumgarner (8 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K), who rolled through the first five innings with ease. The Pirates started just 4-for-20 against the dominant lefty, allowing him to keep an under-3.00 ERA on the year.
“He commands his fastball very well and obviously spots his offspeed as well,” Barmes said. “He comes into righties hard and has a lot of good movement. You’re gonna see a lot of guys get jammed.”
Gaby Sanchez and Josh Harrison began the Pirates’ 6th by lining back-to-back singles and Neil Walker bunted them over. Barmes watched one Bumgarner slider go by, fouled off another, then roped the next slider from the low-inside corner to send over the left-field wall for his fourth home run.
“I was honestly just battling to stay inside whatever pitch I got,” Barmes said. “Looking at the video, it was probably not the best pitch to swing at.”
The leg kick is a recent addition to Barmes’ swing, but it’s not new. He tried versions of the kick before arriving in Pittsburgh last year, to varying degrees of success, and has re-adopted the change since about early July.
“I stay back better on my back side. When I don’t stay on my back side when I swing, I feel it,” Barmes said. “I’m still working with it, and so far it’s been working pretty well… so I’m going to run with it.”
Clint Barmes Pre- and Post-Leg Kick, 2013
- Before July: .204 BA, .236 OBP, .275 SLG, 2 home runs in 179 plate appearances
- Since July 1: .266 BA, .322 OBP, .430 SLG, 2 home runs in 90 plate appearances
Manager Clint Hurdle said he saw the leg kick “ramp up” over Barmes’ best years when the two were together in Colorado.
“He’s open to change. He wants to do what’s best for the team, for himself,” Hurdle said. “He felt like making that adjustment, giving him a better position to hit. He’s swung the bat better. The at-bats have been cleaner and more productive since he implemented that leg kick.”
By earning the victory, the Pirates improved to a 4-1 record on both their California road trip and their 2013 season series against the floundering World Champion Giants. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon got the final four outs as the Bucs went to 76-52 and hang to a one-game lead in the NL Central over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Can I kick it? Yes you can, Clint Barmes.