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Barney's return sparks uptick in Cubs D

Dale Sveum said it's no coincidence the Cubs' defense has improved with Darwin Barney's return. AP Photo/Morry Gash

CHICAGO -- Sometimes the value of a player is never appreciated more than when he's not in the lineup. That theory most definitely applies to Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney. The lone Gold Glove winner on the team missed the first 12 games of the season with an injury and lo and behold the Cubs defense suffered.

Coincidence or not, his return has coincided with an uptick in play in the field for the Cubs. It helped them win Monday night, 5-3, over the San Diego Padres.

"Barney solidified our defense, believe me," manager Dale Sveum said in some of the highest praise of the season. "When he's out there he's going to do a lot of things in the course of the game but he's going to do at least one thing a day that is going to change the aspect of game.

"It's going to save pitchers umpteen pitches. That's why he won the Gold Glove. He's the best in the league. That's how much he means to us. He changes the game around for us defensively."

And Sveum said this on a night when Barney had a pair of two-out RBI hits, in the fourth and sixth innings. That's always been the question mark with him. Will he hit enough? Will he get on-base enough? He's currently 9-for-45 since returning with an on-base percentage of .265. It needs to go up.

"I'm feeling better and better," Barney said. "Making some adjustments here and there. Working on my posture a little bit. Swing at better pitches and hopefully it turns around a little more."

So is he part of the core group the Cubs will employ in the coming years? At 27, he could just be coming into his prime. Second base prospect Logan Watkins is an on-base machine in the minors and might push him, but Gold Glove infielders can prevent as many runs as offensive oriented players produce.

According to Baseball Info Solutions Barney "saved" the Cubs 28 runs last season, tops in all of baseball. Defensive runs saved measures a fielder's ability to turn batted balls into outs and perform position-specific skills, such as turning double plays for Barney. That's no small statistic.

He made a diving stop on a Chase Headley ball going to his left in the seventh inning on Monday with two men on. That's his specialty. Last season he made 18 more plays than the average second baseman going to his left. A few days ago he turned a near catastrophe into a double play when he skied high for a ball thrown by pitcher Scott Feldman. Twelve games, 64 chances, no errors. Barney is picking up where he left off. And the rest of the team is following suit.

"Defensively we picked it up a lot," he said. "With all these close games, pitching and defense will help us win those games."

Barney isn't a free agent until 2017 so there's plenty of time to evaluate if he's the answer at second base when the Cubs are ready to contend. If they fill their lineup out with some hitters to go along with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo then Barney's case for staying is even better.

When asked recently about seeing the upcoming Wrigley Field renovations Barney joked, "I hope I'm still here."

So do his pitchers.