HOUSTON -- Clint Barmes' average and his place in the lineup are both up.
Buried in the batting order for much of the season, the defensively-steady shortstop was in the two-hole for Friday night's series opener against the Astros.
The jump came in the wake of a nine-game spurt during which Barmes hit .417, with four multihit games. The spree lifted his average to a season-high .230. It was the sixth time in 134 games that Barmes was in the top third of the starting lineup.
"He's just been very steady for us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's probably had more hits to right field the last month than in the entire season before. He's letting the ball travel and is seeing it well. Hopefully, he gives us a spark there."
Barmes could be in the right place to do just that. Not meaning No. 2, but Houston. In his first dozen starts against his 2011 club, Barmes had a homer and seven RBIs, while going 10-for-39 (.256).
Cutch applauds Melky's initiative
HOUSTON -- If Andrew McCutchen does win the National League batting title with an average lower than .346, he will have the satisfaction of knowing he had personally knocked out Melky Cabrera.
According to the joint decision made by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, in response to a request by Cabrera himself, a player has been rendered ineligible for the 2012 batting title if he failed to accumulate the 502 plate appearances required for qualification due to suspension for violation of the MLB Drug Program.
"It was man of him to do something like that," McCutchen said of Cabrera's initiative. "He admitted he was wrong, and felt this was the right thing to do, so he did it."
"A voice of reason, that was my first thought," said McCutchen's manager, Clint Hurdle. "Melky probably gave it a lot of thought and talked to people who are close to him. I think he made a very good decision."
The Cabrera amendment had to be worded so narrowly because baseball's official rules do not yet deal with the statistical status of suspended players.
Cabrera had 501 plate appearances when he was suspended on Aug. 15. And he would have picked up the missing plate appearance had McCutchen not gone off on July 8 against his Giants.
With McCutchen belting a pair of home runs and driving in four runs, the Bucs opened up a 10-0 lead in the sixth on the way to a 13-2 win over San Francisco in PNC Park. As is routine in such blowout situations, Giants manager Bruce Bochy began removing his regulars in the seventh to give them a rest.
Cabrera was one of those pulled from the game, before his spot in the batting order came up in the eighth.
McCutchen entered Friday night's game here against the Astros batting .339, with only a slight lead over another member of the Giants, catcher Buster Posey, at .335.
"It's good that he did what he did, and we move on from there," McCutchen said.
The last word
"I had a 'wait' clause in my contract. The longer I waited to sign it, the less money I was going to get."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, comparing his experience to some of the contract incentives now being given players.
• Andrew McCutchen has hit all 30 of his home runs since May 8. Ryan Braun, with 31, is the only National League player with more during that stretch.
• Since being pulled from the starting rotation, James McDonald has spent an idle week in the bullpen. But there are no thoughts of completely shutting him down for the season's final two weeks.
"I want to see him get on the mound and pitch, and get after some people," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's important that he get back on the mound at least a couple of times."
• Due to their recent workload, right-handers Chris Resop, Jared Hughes and Jeff Karstens were not available out of the bullpen for Friday night's game.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.