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Friday, March 7, 2014
Barney competing vs. self, not teammates

By Jesse Rogers

If Chicago Cubs infielder Darwin Barney is feeling the heat of competition this spring, he's not showing it.

Barney is the incumbent starter at second base, but a slew of infield prospects are close to being ready for the major leagues. Until the season begins there's mostly one thing people think of when it comes to him: .208.

Darwin Barney, Eric Sogard
Darwin Barney's defense has kept him in the lineup.
His 2013 batting average has many believing he's not long for a starting job, but this is a Gold Glove winner who hit .276 in 2011. And depending on whom you talk to, he isn't that far from getting back to some respectable numbers. He was at the top of the league in foul ball percentage last year as he battled pitchers, and he drove in 41, batting mostly eighth. But his overall results spoke volumes. They weren't very good.

"It's competition every day," Barney said recently. "There's a guy behind me, a guy behind him and two behind him. That's part of the gig."

Barney could be talking about a number of players, including top prospect Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara, or even late winter pickup Emilio Bonifacio. None of it fazes him -- at least not publicly.

"I look at Bonifacio or the other guys as teammates," he said.

That's because he knows the battle isn't with them -- it's with the game. It won't matter whom he's competing with if he repeats his .208 batting average and .266 on-base percentage. Barney wants to "be the same every day" at the plate. That wasn't the case last season.

"[Hitters] try to find something every day, to fix something," Barney said. "I'm trying to be the same every day with the approach and timing."

It will take a lot of mental toughness to stick with that approach even when the results aren't there, but Barney says he'll do it.

"Being consistent with my approach," he said. "The results will come. I'm confident about that."

Barney is off to a good start this spring as his compact swing has paid off. A day after Bonifacio tripled in his first at-bat as a Cub, Barney singled and homered. He's 4-for-11 going into Friday's games. And after Starlin Castro injured his hamstring recently, Barney moved over to shortstop for a start this week. It can only make him more valuable; right now, Barney and his defense are a pitcher's best friend.

"This early in spring I try to take as many ground balls as I can," Barney said. "I have a routine to get ready on defense as well."

Defense is the reason he has stayed in the lineup for as long as he has. It might make him a valuable trade commodity at some point, but if he can find his stroke again, there's nothing wrong with a .270-hitting, Gold Glove-winning second baseman.

Manager Rick Renteria has already declared him his starting second baseman, but things can always change when spring or regular-season results are analyzed.

For now, Barney just wants to do one thing at the plate.

"Being the same every day," he said.

As long as the results aren't the same.