Darwin Barney answers challenge with homer in debut

Written By BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter Posted: 04/02/2014, 06:15am
Array Chicago Cubs' Darwin Barney watches his foul ball during a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, in Tempe, Ariz. The Angels won 15-3. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) ORG XMIT: AZRF115

TEMPE, Ariz. — If Darwin Barney doesn’t have something to prove this spring, then how do you explain his check-this-out debut Friday?

“It’s baseball,” the 2012 Gold Glove second baseman said. “You’ve got to come out and do it again tomorrow. That’s the name of the game.”

With trade rumors swirling and manager Rick Renteria suggesting Thursday that newcomer Emilio Bonifacio could challenge the incumbent for playing time, Barney responded.

He stole a page from Bonifacio’s playbook in the first inning, beating out an infield hit. Then, after the next eight Cubs were retired, Barney homered to left.

“It’s Day 1,” he said. “There’s a long spring ahead and a lot of work to do.”

If it comes with the wrinkle of rumors involving the Yankees and a challenge from those wanting a piece of his job, well, that’s why Barney worked all winter after he hit .208 last season, which ticked him off more than anyone else in the organization.

“You’re fighting to stay in this league every year,” said Barney, the Cubs’ starting second baseman since soon after his big-league debut in August 2010. “The game doesn’t owe you anything, and that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m trying to prove that I’ve made strides, trying to prove that I’ve gotten better.”

If Barney can hit somewhere between the .254 he hit in 2012 and the .276 he hit in ’11, it might be hard to knock him out of the ­starting lineup even part-time.

“But I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m going to come out and try to prepare for Opening Day and focus on the things I need to focus on to get ready. And that’s not worrying about stuff like that.”

The fact is, Bonifacio probably isn’t as much of a threat as some might think. The biggest reason he’s a career utility player is he has struggled to play well enough defensively at any one spot to keep a starting position.

As a guy who can create havoc on the bases and has played six positions in the big leagues, he’s a major asset to National League team. He also has been traded by four teams and released by a fifth in the last 5½ years, despite a reputation as an upbeat, positive influence in the clubhouse.

“I don’t see Bonifacio as anything but a teammate,” said Barney, who ranked second among NL second basemen in defensive wins above replacement (WAR) last year. “He’s someone who can help us win no matter where he’s playing, whether it’s second base, shortstop or left field.

“He’s a great guy. I love having him around. He works hard, and he creates things on the bases that are exciting.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub

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