Barmes staying loose in new lineup spot

Barmes staying loose in new spot

HOUSTON -- Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes is learning to loosen up. You can see it in his fingers.

As Barmes stands in the box, he's holding the bat so loosely that his fingers barely touch it. The move has produced looser, more controlled action in his swing. After moving to the No. 2 position in the order on Friday, the day Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as manager, Barmes has gone 8-for-22 to lift his overall average to .253.

His numbers took a hit in Tuesday night's 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Astros, when Barmes went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. But Barmes has quietly begun showing patience in the batter's box, becoming productive enough to receive the at-bats high in the order that he has always desired.

Expect him to be there again Wednesday night, when the Rockies face the Astros in the third of four games at Minute Maid Park.

"I feel solid for the most part," Barmes said. "Just early on I battled staying in the strike zone. It's always been an issue for me. I'm hoping that from here and the rest of my career it gets better, but I know that's something I'm probably always going to have to deal with."

Barmes, 30, has walked 11 times this season. That's not a huge number for an everyday player. It's the least on the team for players with at least 140 at-bats. He's has walked nine times since May 1, which is an improvement. He walked 17 times in 107 games last season.

Barmes generally will be aggressive with pitches he thinks are strikes. But his tendency to chase balls is an issue. He tightens his front shoulder at times as the ball is approaching. When that happens, it results in a poor swing at a pitch that often is out of the zone.

"I'm always kind of taking my hands and trying not to grip," Barmes said. "I've heard of people squeezing grip and releasing. I've tried that. I'm not a guy who can do it that way. Mine is just keeping my hands loose. When I start my swing, it's relaxed.

"There are times when you get a good pitch and you feel good. I can hit this ball and I see it real well, then I try to do too much with it. That's when I'll pop it up, miss it -- all those factors go into it. That's how hard this game can be at times."

Barmes noted that other teams clearly believe they can disrupt his rhythm. Hitting coach Don Baylor noted that with men on base, a pitcher can hold the ball a little longer with the hope Barmes will become tense during the at-bat. Baylor said coaches from the other bench or catchers can see Barmes tense up and get word to the pitchers.

So the plan is to concentrate on the bat taking a fluid path to the ball.

"From where he is now, he can take a nice, relaxed swing," Baylor said.

Tracy noted that Barmes' natural aggressiveness can help him at the top of the order, especially if leadoff man Dexter Fowler is on.

"I think with some commitment on Clint Barmes' part, he has the capabilities and the characteristics that for me go into being an outstanding No. 2-hole hitter," Tracy said. "The other thing I felt was to challenge him in that way, knowing that he's going to be a better player that way, our team is going to be better, we get more energy at the top of the lineup."

Barmes is taking to it well.

"For the most part, I've stayed within my zone," Barmes said. "I've walked a little bit lately. I've had my success when I get pitches to hit. The pitches over the plate, those are the ones I want to hit. Those are the ones I want to be aggressive on."

Pitching matchup
COL: RHP Jason Marquis (7-3, 3.93 ERA)
Marquis has been the Rockies' best pitcher the first two months, and he showed it in his previous start, against the Padres. Marquis relied on his sharp sinker for eight shutout innings, scattering six hits and striking out six to notch his seventh win. In his last start against the Astros, Marquis gave up nine runs in 3 2/3 innings, easily his worst performance this season.

HOU: RHP Brian Moehler (2-3, 6.43 ERA)
Moehler was stellar in his most recent start, tossing his first complete game in almost nine years in a 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. Since being reinstated from the disabled list May 4, Moehler is 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA. He has not been too good against Colorado in his career (1-2, 6.85 ERA), nor at Minute Maid Park this season (0-2, 9.22 ERA).

Catcher Chris Iannetta, on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain, hit a home run in his injury rehab debut at Triple-A Colorado Springs on Tuesday. He went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts. ... The Rockies are 0-3 in extra-inning games and 0-12 when scoring three or fewer runs in a contest. ... Reserve outfielder Matt Murton has reached in five of his past nine pinch-hit appearances.

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Up next
• Thursday: Rockies (Jason Hammel, 1-3, 4.83) at Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 5-4, 2.26), 6:05 p.m. MT
• Friday: Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa, 0-6, 5.43) at Cardinals (Adam Wainwright, 5-3, 3.38), 6:15 p.m. MT
• Saturday: Rockies (Aaron Cook, 3-3, 4.94) at Cardinals (Todd Wellemeyer, 5-5, 5.05), 5:15 p.m. MT

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.