Barney slowly finding hitting mojo

May, 14, 2013
5/14/13
11:29
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs and starter Carlos Villanueva were blown out at Wrigley Field by the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday. One of the only bright spots for Chicago was Darwin Barney’s slump-breaking, three-hit performance. Barney, who began the season on the disabled list, never regained his spring-training form. He suffered a severely cut kneecap in the team’s last exhibition game in late March and spent two weeks without baseball activity.

The National League Gold Glove winner at second base in 2012 had a plan to make himself a more productive offensive player in 2013. During the offseason, Barney added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame and developed a new plan with Cubs manager Dale Sveum and the hitting coaches in a minicamp session in late November. The hope was that the aggressive infielder would work deeper counts and drive the ball to the gaps in left and right-center fields. With Barney hitting .159 coming into Tuesday night’s game, he and his coaches have decided to modify the plan of attack: “I think more aggressiveness and not worrying about hitting the ball to right field every time he is up to bat is going to pay off," Sveum said. “I think his whole attitude and just the way he feels at the plate doing that is going to benefit him.

Barney, one of the young leaders on the Cubs, has never really felt comfortable at the plate since sitting out with the torn kneecap.

"It was a combination of trying to be somebody you aren’t," Sveum said. “He has pull-side ability of driving the ball [to left] and really numb to the right side. He just had to start hitting the ball hard and not trying to jam it into right field. He does not have the strength to hit over the center fielder's or right fielder's head.”

Barney has been searching to find himself at the plate while maintaining a perfect fielding record through 25 games. “When I came back, I was a little bit defensive at the plate," he said after the Cubs' 9-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies. “I was letting the ball get too deep. It wasn’t an accident. I came in with the plan to let the ball get deep. I was trying to get my hips to move that way [to right field]."

Barney has taken a one-day-at-a-time approach to his hitting for now. Even a three-hit game is not conclusive evidence that he is back to form.

“When you have been going through a spell like I have been going through, sometimes it [the three-hit game] doesn’t really make a difference," he said. “It has been a struggle for me, but you try to keep up your work and help the team anyway that you can.”

Barney’s three hits included his second home run of the season. Ten of Barney’s 11 career home runs have come at Wrigley Field.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167