PITTSBURGH, Pa. — When signing veterans Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas over the offseason, the Pirates expected more from them than the numbers they’ve put up so far this season. Barmes and Barajas also expected more out of themselves.
The Pirates need to get the bottom of the lineup going. Entering game action on Wednesday, the seventh spot has combined to hit for a .175/.213/.340 line this season, while the eighth spot has a .170/.250/.340 line.
“It’s a big part of what we need to do,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We don’t want a lineup that’s one through five, one through six. We need to be able to score runs from any point of the lineup. Obviously, we’ve had our challenges at seven and eight. These are two experienced guys that have fared better…They understand it. They’re not happy with it. They’re trying to combat it and figure out ways to improve, have more production, and do the things that they have been capable of doing in the past.”
“Collectively, it’s important individual to take better ownership from the time that they’re in the batters box. And that’s going to help the group, the whole team concept better off. It’s not so much as what I can do, but what can I do to make the guy’s job easier behind me while I’m up at the plate. That’s something we’ve talked about. There comes a point in time where we’ve got the action taken care of with it.”
Shortstop Clint Barmes signed a two-year deal with the Bucs over the offseason after the club decided to part ways with Ronny Cedeno. With neither Chase d’Arnaud or Jordy Mercer ready to play the big leagues everyday, the 33-year-old rejoined his former skipper Clint Hurdle in Pittsburgh.
“The biggest thing has been more mental than anything,” Barmes said of his adjustments. “Just relaxing in the box and trying not to do too much. Just try to slow the game down as much as possible. As far as the mechanics and tweaking with my swing, I’ve really just done some minor stuff, kind of where my hands have gone. I’m trying to take the tension out of my arms. That’s probably been the biggest thing. It seems like every year when I come in, I’ve changed something in my swing.”
“Just trying to find something that’s going to be consistent and something I can hold on to. I’ve tried just about everything you can try. Changing lanes, going from a high-leg kick to a no stride, open stance to a closed. I think I’ve got a pretty good understanding at this point where I’d like to be, where I need to be. It’s not really a lot of drastic changes. Just trying to find something that’s going to keep me relaxed, keep me loose…I think understanding what I need to do and just trusting it is the biggest thing.”
After going 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the Pirates 5-4 win on Tuesday, Barmes has a .159/.196/.307 line in 88 at-bats on the season. He has gone hitless over his last three starts (10 at-bats).
“It’s definitely been a grind,” Barmes said. “Coming into a new team, it would have been nice to get off to a great start. With the way that our pitching staff has been, that’s definitely frustrating as a position player. Not being able to put something together and be able to score runs, especially with the way they’ve thrown. We should definitely have a lot more wins on our record right now than what we have. I think everyone in here expects and knows that, and expects to do better.”
“Every team is going to go through this at one point in the season. For us, one thing to look at it is hopefully it’s behind us now and we’ve hit that spot early. We’ve got way too much talent in here to not score runs and to not be playing better baseball than we have.”
While trailing the National League Central by 5.5 games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the excuse that it’s ‘still early’ won’t fly with Manager Clint Hurdle.
“It’s not early. We’re 28 games into it,” Hurdle said prior to the game on Tuesday. “I’ve never been a guy to talk about it’s early, or it’s this or it’s that. It is what it is. We’ve got guys that I really believe that if things just calibrate themselves with the history that they’ve got, that things are going to get better. But there needs to be a professional urgency. Not a mindless scatter brain to make things happen that aren’t there. An energy to be focused, to be able to move upon mistakes, to be able to stay confident even when there’s no tangible evidence to be confident.”
Barajas was the hero in the Pirates walk off victory against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. Trailing the Nats by one in the bottom of the ninth, Barajas picked the perfect time to connect for his first long ball of the season — which was a two-run shot to seal the win for the Bucs.
But prior to last night, Barajas has struggled at the plate. On Tuesday, the catcher entered action hitting for a .133/.200/.183 line in 60 at-bats. After putting a lot of extra work in recently, skipper Clint Hurdle has seen better swings in the cages.
“It can’t go on forever,” Hurdle said of Barajas’ struggles. “But actually, we got in the cage on Sunday and we tried doing a couple things. We put in another workday [Tuesday]. He’s been working. To see a man with that experience show up, to want to work early. You expect it, but it doesn’t always happen. The last two work days, we’ll see where it goes. They were just better, cleaner.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of work in the cage and I feel like I’m close,” Barajas said. “I feel like the swing is there. Now it’s just the matter of swinging balls in the strike zone. I felt like I kind of went out of the strike zone a little bit in the first two at-bats. I was just ready to hit just balls that weren’t located in my zone. I think once I get that ball, be a little more patient. Take advantage of the balls that they do throw in my spot. I think I’d be okay.”
While his bat has started off cold, the Pirates pitching staff has been very good for the club. The Pirates pitching is currently ranked eight-best in the National League (3.43 ERA). The list of arms that Barajas has caught over his 13-year big league career is impressive. Barajas has helped the young staff grow.
“That was the reason why we went to Rod Barajas, was his game calling, his presence, his maturity behind home plate. He’s helping our pitchers get through, not only innings, but at-bats. That’s his primarily responsibly for us,” General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday. “What he does with the bat is going to be our bonus. Sure, we’ve expected more at this point in time. He’s had some at-bats where he’s squared some balls up. He’s not had a lot of luck at this point in time…Rod is going to start finding grass here pretty soon. He’s going to start getting some luck that will work in his favor. He’ll just keep grinding.”