Barmes hopes comfort level translates into more hits
Veteran Pirates infielder in first Spring Training as incumbent shortstop
BRADENTON, Fla. -- First impressions have not been Clint Barmes' forte, and he knows it. What he doesn't know, but is about to find out, is what it's like to be a tenured shortstop.
Barmes was one of the early arrivals in the Pirates' Spring Training camp, and it's entirely appropriate for him to have reported with pitchers because in 2012, he was such a big part of the staff's success. His self-described "vanilla" style of play -- not flashy, but steady and dependable -- consistently bailed out pitchers and shortened innings.
Many fans were apt to nominate Barmes for the Bucs' pitching staff for another reason, too: "He can't hit," they'd chorus. The same cynics rued that leaving the National League Central for the AL were the Astros and not the Pirates, who then could've used a designated hitter in Barmes' place.
The departure of catcher Rod Barajas, his 2012 partner in crimes against offense, has isolated Barmes in the bull's-eye of concern about the lineup.
"After last season, believe me, I can understand that," Barmes said, smiling. "You look at the numbers, and they don't lie."
They do, however, mislead. His final average of .229 was poor, all right. But it was on the Interstate (.198) as late as the last day of June, and Barmes enjoyed a respectable final two months (.269) he intends to carry over into a new season.
"I know I can bring a lot more offensively than what I did last year," said Barmes, counting on comfort to help him get there.
Comfort? For the first time in his career, and as hard as this may be to believe for a soon-to-be 34-year-old who broke into the Majors in 2003, Barmes is in his first big league camp as an incumbent shortstop. The spring after he'd played 125 games there for the 2006 Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki showed up. After a couple of seasons as Colorado's second baseman, Barmes had one season as Houston's shortstop before signing as a free agent with the Pirates.
Locked in at the position, Barmes can shed the incoming pressures that entrapped him the last two years.
"The last couple of years, I've been in new situations where I felt like I had to prove myself," he said. "You want to get out of the gate fast, and I'd get ready for it in the offseason by trying to tweak things, but the things I thought would help me backfired. I tried to do too much ... whatever ... but I did it in Houston and here last year, and I've spent the last two second halves climbing out of the hole I dug for myself.
"I don't want to say I'm comfortable now, but I know all the guys and the staff. It's a lot different than where I was last year. I can just focus on what I need to do on the field, nothing else. I can put the blinders back on. I want to build on where I ended the season, by trying to keep things as simple as possible, getting back to what got me to the big leagues, the swing that got me here."
The man who had been on the scene when Barmes' career became nomadic is confident the reassuring end of last season will be his springboard into this one.
"He did pick up his offensive game. He became what we expected to get for the entire season," said Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle, the Rockies manager under whose watch Barmes had made way for Tulowitzki. "That confidence should roll over very well.
"He's in a much better place mentally. You never know how players will react to new situations, and obviously [coming here] was the first time he had entered into a significant contract. Maybe his want-to got in the way of his how-to. He's played with us a year, and knows the difference he was able to make on defense alone."
Doing little with the bat to justify the two-year, $10 million contract, Barmes was kept sane by the glove.
"Last year was by far my best year defensively," Barmes said. "My last few years have been great -- and I always take pride in that; one thing that has kept me here has been my glove and I haven't lost sight of that. But obviously I'm not getting any younger, so it's having gotten to know the positioning. That's been huge for me, being able to get good jumps, positioning myself in spots where I don't have to make a great play to get to the ball. Experience has been a huge part of that: every year I've played, I've gotten smarter and better."
At that rate, Barmes hopes to make it to genius status: His one big-picture goal is to become a 10-year veteran, a significant service-time milestone.
"That is a personal goal of mine," said Barmes, a little more than two full seasons short. "I'd like to play till I get my 10 years, and I want to do that playing every day."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.