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Cubs’ Darwin Barney is playing like a Rookie of the Year

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

DENVER — Barely a month ago, in spring training, Darwin Barney still was considered a candidate for the last infield spot on the roster.

Now just two weeks into the season, he suddenly has the look of an early Rookie of the Year candidate.

A lot of baseball is left before that starts to sort itself out, but at Barney’s pace, that might only work in his favor.

“You prepare, but then you expect these things,’’ Barney said of the success coming as quickly as it has for him so far. “There’s no surprises. I spent a lot of time this offseason getting myself prepared, and the work I did with [strength coach Tim Buss] and stuff, it gives you confidence knowing there’s nothing more you could have done to prepare for this.’’

Barney, a two-time College World Series-champion shortstop at Oregon State, was one of about a dozen Cubs prospects who endured the organization’s new rigorous winter workout program dubbed “Camp Colvin’’ (after the success Tyler Colvin had as a rookie following a similar program).

Whether a result of that program or the natural development of his talent, Barney has put a stranglehold on the every-day second-base job and become one of the more productive No. 2 hitters in the majors in the week since he and shortstop Starlin Castro took over the 1-2 spots in the Cubs’ order.

“So far, so good,’’ manager Mike Quade said. “And you can play some hit-and-run and do some things with him. But the funny thing is when a guy’s swinging a bat like he’s been swinging, why do I want to get in the middle of this?”

Barney, hitting .333 this season, was in the middle of a pair of scoring rallies in the first and third innings Sunday against Colorado as the Cubs fought back from an early deficit — following a Castro leadoff walk and leadoff single with singles to right and center, respectively.

The first one was especially big because it sent Castro to third, which in turn allowed him to score on a double play.

If Barney looks comfortable in the 2-hole, it’s because he is, after spending much of his pro career batting there and anticipating that role in the majors.

“And it makes it easier hitting behind a guy getting on base 60 percent of the time or whatever he’s doing,’’ Barney said. “It gives me an opportunity to do what I do best, and that’s to move runners and situational-hit and stuff like that.’’

Just as impressive, though, has been the apparent rapport the two young middle infielders have despite never playing as teammates in the minors. And how Barney has adapted so well and so quickly to the right side of the bag.

On Sunday, the managers for both teams talked about the game-changing play Barney made Saturday night on a sliding play toward first that went for the first out of the third inning instead of a single that would have put men at the corners with none out.

“That’s part of what we’re talking about,’’ Quade said. “We make some mistakes defensively, more than we need to. But we have shored up [the middle infield]. Barney’s done a good job, and he looks more comfortable to me day in and day out.’’

Barney said working alongside Castro makes it easier.

“I think we feed off of each other,’’ said Barney, who talks a lot with Castro between plays to stay clear on assignments. “He’s such a smart baseball player, it makes it easy to get along with him out there.’’

That makes two of them.

“We’ve got a good flow right now,’’ Barney said. “Let’s see if we can keep it going.’’

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