Mercer soaking up big league chance with Pirates

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When the cut on Neil Walker's right hand necessitated a move to the disabled list, the Pirates had options to replace him.

They could have chosen Josh Harrison, who has started 23 major league games at second base and was hitting .300 with a .410 on-base percentage after the weekend games with Class AAA Indianapolis. They could have opted for Ivan DeJesus, who was hitting .358 and has played plenty of middle infield but isn't on the 40-man roster.

Instead, they called up Jordy Mercer because, as manager Clint Hurdle said, "From opening day until then, he played better than everybody else there."

Mercer's immediate future with the Pirates is uncertain. When Walker returns -- he is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday -- the Pirates might option Mercer back to Indianapolis. But Mercer played nearly exclusively at shortstop for Indianapolis this season, partly to prepare him for the possibility of competing for the major league job in 2014.


Game: Seattle Mariners vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, Radio: No TV; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Probable starters: RHP Aaron Harang (1-3, 8.68 ERA) vs. RHP James McDonald (2-2, 5.76).

Key matchup: Harang vs. Garrett Jones, who is 6 for 10 with two doubles and a home run against Harang.

Hidden stat: McDonald has a 3.07 ERA in three home starts, 8.40 in three road starts.

"We talked with Jordy about deserving to make our club out of spring training given the spring that he'd had, given what he'd done, given the advancements and development that he'd shown," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We challenged him to continue to carry it forward. We also gave him some things that he can continue to work on to be a legitimate option for us at short next year."

In 2012, Mercer played 33 games at shortstop, 10 at third base and 11 at second. This year, he started 23 of 26 games at short. Mercer has generally shared an infield with Chase d'Arnaud, who also plays shortstop, but d'Arnaud tore a ligament in this thumb this spring that required surgery.

"Chase has had more shortstop time because he's not as polished as Jordy is," Huntington said. "With Chase being down, it was an opportunity to give Jordy, whether it's a month or two solid months, at shortstop and sharpen some things up with him."

Mercer played sparingly with the Pirates in 2012, his first season in the majors. He appeared at short in 28 games but started only nine. He had a .265 on-base percentage and one home run in 68 plate appearances.

This spring, Mercer hit .300 and drew 11 walks and had an on-base percentage to .500.

"The first spring we had Jordy, he was wide-eyed," Hurdle said. "I think it overwhelmed him in some areas. The next spring, much more composed. The experience of playing in Triple-A and the challenges there, he's a more complete player."

Mercer hit .333 with a .404 on-base percentage this season in Indianapolis. In his final 10 games before the Pirates called him up, he hit .378 with two doubles and a triple.

"I came into the season, one of my goals was to try to stay as consistent as possible," Mercer said. "You try not to ride the roller coaster too much. You try to stay even-keeled, and that's helped me out a lot so far."

Clint Barmes will be a free agent after this season. Barmes has a .497 on-base plus slugging percentage through 28 games. His defense, though not at the level of top five among shortstops like he displayed last year, is solid and will keep him on the field.

"Clint is starting to show some signs with the bat," Huntington said. "We want to make sure we give Jordy the appropriate development time to continue to grow because he is an option at short next year."

There is a lot of baseball left between now and next spring. Mercer might find himself back in Indianapolis when Walker returns. The Pirates might look for a shortstop on the free-agent market after the season or via trade.

For the time being, Mercer has made a good impression, hitting the go-ahead home run Friday in his first start after his recall.

"He's checking those things off and he's working hard," Huntington said. "He's got a great approach about it."

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Bill Brink: and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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