By Bruce Levine-
WRIGLEY FIELD (CBS) — The transition to becoming a more reliable offensive player has not been an easy route for Darwin Barney. The 29-year-old infielder has gutted his way to a big league career by out-working and out-thinking players with more talent.
The 2012 Gold Glove winner at second base in the National League has watched his offensive numbers and now his playing time drop after a poor season at the plate.
Barney has dedicated himself to having better and more quality at-bats in 2014. At first glance, a.138 batting average so far looks like more of the same from a player who hit a career low .208 in 2013. Flash back to the fall of that year to find where the wheels went off the tracks for the pugnacious infielder.
After a season that produced a drop in batting average of 22 points, Barney dedicated himself to the weight room where he added 10 pounds of muscle across his chest and upper arms. That combined with a new philosophy of trying to pull more for extra-base hits proved fatal to his year.
Although the previous hitting gurus that coached for the Cubs supported Barney’s new approach last year, they are hardly to blame for the end results. The veteran does not play the blame game.
“It is certainly a numbers game,” Barney told me Saturday. “So far this season, I feel I have hit a lot of balls hard and had had some bad luck so far. I still feel like my approach is where it needs to be.”
That approach that the Cubs infielder speaks of has been based around better selectivity and more patience at the plate. The batting average does not tell you all that is going on with the approach.
“Seeing more pitches and getting on base is something that we needed to do as a team collective thought process,” he said. “For me personally it was something I needed to get better at. I feel I did a good job of changing some things during spring training and carrying it into the regular season.”
The approach is based on seeing more pitches and taking walks when the occasion presents itself. Barney, who has worked hard with new hitting coaches Bill Mueller and Mike Brumley, has walked once in every four at-bats since spring training.
“I am trying to swing at strikes,” Barney related. “The walks are just a result of trying to get good pitches to hit. I don’t strike out very often, so I do have the luxury of seeing some pitches. I do need to be aggressive at the same time.”
Mueller seems to be the perfect teacher for Barney. He was a contact hitter during his 15-year career and had a .373 on-base percentage. Like Barney, Mueller had almost as many walks as strikeouts in his career.
“I am lucky to be in this clubhouse,” Barney said. “We have a lot of capable players in here and we are doing what we can to win ballgames. I need to be ready when they call on me.”
Barney was the of center of attention from a number of teams including both New York teams during spring training. The Cubs will not just give away a great infielder and some one with the leadership and fellowship qualities of the second baseman.