CHICAGO -- Long after the Chicago Cubs' locker room had emptied Saturday and Wrigley Field was nearly cleaned from the afternoon game, two people emerged from space beneath the right-field stands.
Darwin Barney had a bat in hand. Hitting coach James Rowson walked alongside doing all of the talking.
There is no questioning the work Barney puts in to get better, whether it be on offense or defense. But while his work with the glove has made him among baseball’s best defenders at second base, he has yet to make the same progress with his bat.
“He’s not feeling very good at the plate,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Barney is one of those guys that I saw him here on the day off (Thursday) hitting. He’s one of those guys that’s a grinder and will do everything he can to make himself a better player.”
He is also starting to look like a player that can grind himself into the ground. He is hitting .097 (3-for-31) over his last 10 games after hitting .340 (18-for-53) in 14 games from July 29-Aug. 13. Overall this season he is at .258 with six home runs, 35 RBI and a .299 on-base percentage.
A late-season fall off isn’t unique to this year, though. Last year, Barney batted .306 in the first half and .238 after the All-Star break. He looked to be breaking the trend this season with a .275 batting average in July, but in August he has slipped to .205.
“Sometimes you want to use a lot of things as an excuse for slumps but the bottom line is they happen,” Sveum said. “Also the last two or three days he’s lined out about four times to the center fielder and hit the ball hard too. You can look too far into things and get confused by slumps and pitch selection and when to be aggressive and when not to be too. Sometimes it’s not just mechanical.”
Sure Sveum defends his players, but with Barney it seems like more than having a guy’s back. He’s confident that an All-Star-type season is still in his second baseman.
“I think he can be (a .300 hitter) and I think he knows some of the adjustments he has to make to get some things working on the back side to where he can get some length through the strike zone with his bat,” Sveum said. “The hand-eye coordination, the strength, the hand speed, it should play into a .290 to a .310 hitter some day.”