Barmes rediscovers comfort zone
Veteran seeks utility job after string of injuries, tough seasons
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies infielder Clint Barmes rates this spring as the best he's ever felt at the plate.
Really? Remember the first two months of 2005, when he was hitting .329 and seemed on his way to the National League Rookie of the Year Award?
But after taking nearly three years to learn what he didn't know in those two heady months, Barmes will gladly take his current Cactus League performance -- a .318 average in 10 games. It's good enough to give him the lead in competition for a utility job when the season opens.
"I kept everything simple in '05, and a lot of things worked out for me through those first two months when I swung the bat well," Barmes said. "But who's to say that if I stayed healthy all that whole year and I went into a funk that I'd be able to come out of it at that level? That's one thing that we'll never know.
"After the struggles I've had the last couple of years, I've learned a lot about my swing."
A freak fall away from the park left him with a broken collarbone, and he's hit .219 in 185 Major League games since. He also lost the starting shortstop job to Troy Tulowitzki.
Funk-proofing Barmes' swing has been a difficult process, one that forced him into long offseason sessions with Rockies hitting coach Alan Cockrell and assistant to the hitting coach Mike Bard. The quest led him to spend 108 games last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he hit .299.
The key has been gaining "separation." Cockrell explained that when Barmes' left foot hits the ground after his stride, his hands are drawn back and ready to come forward. Proper timing of those maneuvers puts him in the best position to judge pitches.
"I think he's the most confident I've ever seen him," Cockrell said. "'Barmie' is such a hard worker that when you see it click like this, you believe there's going to be some consistency."
Manager Clint Hurdle echoed that Barmes looks comfortable.
"A player needs to get to a point in time in his career where he understands he's best served filling that role," Hurdle said. "Now, does he want to be an everyday player? Sure they do, but that's their ticket at the time. And he's gotten to the point where he knows he's most useful to this ballclub."
Barmes, 29, has improved his already solid work at shortstop, where he can back up Tulowitzki. Barmes has made six of his eight starts this spring at short. He has also shown the ability to play at second and third.
During Wednesday's 10-10 tie with the White Sox, Barmes entered in the bottom of the seventh for his second appearance in center field, and later moved to third. He walked in his only plate appearance, and scored.
Omar Quintanilla, the main competition for utility work, can be sent to the Minors without being exposed to waivers. Barmes is out of options and would have to clear waivers if the Rockies want to send him down.
"I'm very thankful for the opportunities the Rockies have given me," Barmes said. "They stuck with me through '06 when I was struggling at my worst. That says a lot to me."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.