DENVER -- Clint Barmes made progress in the search for his stroke Sunday, knocking a couple hits out in the late innings and plating a pair of runs in the Rockies' six-run seventh, effectively nailing the door closed on a series sweep of the Diamondbacks. He'll take the progress for now, but he's far from satisfied with his second-half production. Barmes' batting average since the All-Star break is exactly 100 points lower than his average before the break, and though he's already doubled his previous career high of 11 home runs from 2008, he's looking for a more consistent swing at the plate. "The power's been great, but I'd like to be getting on base more," Barmes said before Monday's series opener with the Reds. "As hot as I was, it's a little frustrating to have dropped this far down. I'm not a .240 hitter."
Barmes was at his best in June, when he hit .314 with four homers and helped pace the Rockies as they turned their season around with a 21-7 record, their best month to date. He's since fallen off the pace he set for himself, hitting .192 in July and August, but still adding 12 homers and 30 RBIs. "We're just going to continue to encourage him to go to the plate and realize that there has to be some separation, you've got to walk away from the ball, you can't chase the ball, you can't run into the ball," manager Jim Tracy said. "Just continue to beat that home to him." The key for Barmes usually boils down to the strike zone he brings to the plate. When he struggles, he can still get a little anxious in the batter's box, allowing himself to expand his zone and getting himself in trouble by swinging at balls outside the umpire's zone. "I've been going after it too much," Barmes said. "I can feel it starting to turn. I had a couple hits yesterday in my last two at-bats. I went after them a little bit, but I can feel myself staying back better." Regardless of Barmes' rollercoaster offensive numbers -- he's hitting 36 points better in September entering Monday than he was in July or August -- Tracy remains extremely confident in Barmes, sending him out every day to second base and knowing that what Barmes offers beside Troy Tulowitzki makes for as good a combination of defensive solidity and offensive production as nearly any other double-play combo in the Major Leagues. Barmes leads all Rockies in both at-bats (474) and games played (131 of 137 entering Monday), and Tracy has no intention of changing his thought process when it comes to filling out the lineup card. "There's different things and different ways you can use him from a situational standpoint as an offensive player," Tracy said. "If he continues to go out there and play the kind of defense that he's playing in the middle with Troy Tulowitzki, we'll find ways for him. If it means a day like I did with Bradley [Hawpe, who got a day off Saturday while struggling at the plate] just to get him away from it so he can mentally regroup, would I consider that? Yes. But would I pull the plug on Clint Barmes and leave him not involved for an extended period of time? It won't happen. The ball's got to be caught in the middle of the field, and he does a very good job at that." Part of Barmes' Achilles' heel in expanding the strike zone shows up in his chasing after outside pitches, and he's as aware as anyone of exactly where his vulnerabilities lie. "When I've got an 0-for-3 day at the plate, I can press a little to get a hit that day and go after pitches I should be staying away from," Barmes observed. His aggressiveness sometimes gets him out in front of balls a bit too much, resulting in a lopsided hitting chart from pulling so many balls. "I can't remember the last time I got a hit to right-center," Barmes said, but when he was hot in June, that was part of his M.O. "When he really got going for us, he was doing a lot of different things where he was involving himself in right-center field to the right-field line," Tracy said. "But when you're chasing the ball, it's virtually impossible for you to be able to stay inside, because as a result of running after it, your barrel gets outside the ball, and you're going to roll over and hook the ball. That's the little bit of a rut that he's in right now. You can't stay away from doing something like unless you get back behind it and stay behind it." At the moment, it's still a question of progress over perfection for Barmes. His 22 home runs are the most by a Rockies second baseman, and his 71 RBIs are sixth best among National League infielders. Add in the fact that his 358 assists are just two off the league lead for second basemen, and his impact is felt all over the field. "Think about what Clint Barmes has done up to this point. With 22 home runs, he's second on the club in home runs," Tracy said. "This hurdle that we're talking about, you get him over that and he gets that completely figured out and this guy becomes a very special player because of what he brings to the plate offensively and what he can do for you defensively . He's a special player for me now. He becomes a very special player to the point where he completely figures all this stuff out, believe me. We're going to work really hard at trying to do so, I can promise you that."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.