PITTSBURGH -- Clint Barmes greeted a visitor with an awkward smile following his 3-for-4 performance in the Pirates' 7-2 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday night.
"Did I make it?" Barmes asked, referring to crossing baseball's derogatory Mendoza Line, drawn at a .200 batting average.
Indeed, the three-hit game had pulled the shortstop's average to .200, after he had spent the season's first 74 days below it. It's still only a starting point, but it is an indication that Barmes is at a better point than at any time this season.
"I'll take it. As much cage work as I have done, it's nice to have found something that clicks," he said. "It's only one night -- and I know we've had this conversation already a few times this year -- but I've found a way to relax at the plate and find some [bat] barrels, and I'm trying to be consistent with it.
"What day is it?" he added, asking rhetorically. "As many games as we have left, it's nice to be where I am now. Definitely better than the way I started."
Barmes is heartened by the possibility of reaching his natural level by the end of the season. As a career .252 hitter before 2012, getting there would mean a pretty hot second half.
He could be on his way, with a .284 average in June. Heating up at this time of the year is typical for the 33-year-old 10-year veteran, who has a matching career June average of .284. Also, he batted .282 last July and in 2010 batted .291 through June and July.
Barmes couldn't be sure he'd have gotten to this U-turn had the shots been called by a manager other than Clint Hurdle, who knows him well from their days with the Rockies, and who had lobbied for the Bucs to sign him as a free agent in the offseason.
"It's hard to say if I would've gotten the chances with another manager," Barmes said. "I've played and struggled with other managers, and they kept throwing me out there, believed in me as well. I'm just very thankful for the opportunities I've gotten."