Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes tags out the Red Sox Garin Cecchini Monday afternoon at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — Jordy Mercer’s bat propelled him into the lineup at shortstop in 2013, and the Pirates are giving him every opportunity to stay there this year.
But, when veteran shortstop Clint Barmes walked into the clubhouse this spring after re-signing with the Pirates for a one-year, $2 million deal, no one was more grateful than Mercer.
“I came here a week early and, when he got here I gave him a big old hug and told him, ‘I’m glad you’re back,’ ” Mercer said. “I told him how much easier it is when he’s here.”
Barmes, who excels defensively, has helped to shape Mercer’s young career, and the two have built a relationship that knows few bounds.
In Mercer’s early days, he posed questions about everything from the dress code to balancing baseball and family to Barmes. Now, it is more game-specific — about angles on grounders or reading batters, but nothing is off the table.
“He’s always saying, ‘Hey, got any questions, come ask, I got ya.’ It’s cool to have a guy like that. You can throw both of our egos out the window, and we’re really good friends,” Mercer said. “We’re competing for the same job, but to have him so open arms and approachable it makes my life so much easier.”
The Pirates have shifted Barmes into a utility infielder this spring, and he has had starts at shortstop and second base.
“Mercer’s our front-line guy [at shortstop]. Barmes will be used to play short, second, possibly third. We’ve even got a first-base glove on him,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re pushing Jordy forward this year.”
The utility role is one Barmes has been in before over his 11-year career, and he is comfortable with it.
“I’ve come a couple times in my career where I started in spring training moving around and broke with the team as the utility player,” Barmes said. “It’s not new, but, after taking three, four years of time away from second base, it’s going to take a little bit of work to get comfortable over there.”
It’s also a role for Barmes that Hurdle is comfortable with, and he said emphatically Monday that his comfort level is “very high” with Barmes at second base or any other infield position.
Barmes hit .211 in 2013 in 304 at-bats and spent some time this offseason making minor tweaks to his swing.
Mercer hit .285 in 333 at-bats and .398 in 98 at-bats against left-handers. Hurdle sees a similar defensive skill set in the two.
“Jordy’s learned a lot by watching Clint play. There was a large period of time two years ago when Jordy wasn’t doing a lot of playing, he was doing a lot of watching,” Hurdle said. “But the skill sets are similar, the ability to throw on the run, the ability to backhand the ball across the body, throws, all of that comes into play.
“They’ve got to be good at angles. That’s one thing, probably the biggest thing Barmes has helped Jordy in establishing really good angles and routes to ground balls.”
Barmes said he’s been glad to help Mercer develop and doesn’t consider them as rivals for the same job.
“The last couple years have been a lot of fun working with him, playing the matchups,” Barmes said. “It’s given both of us a chance to get some at-bats and get some playing time.
“It’s not so much that we’re competing against each other. We go out every day and go about our business and we’re both ready to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes that day.”
Mercer is grateful for the knowledge Barmes has relayed to him.
“Experience goes a long way. He’s coming up on 10 or 11 seasons now in the big leagues. It’s knowing hitters. He’s seen guys a bunch of times, and has the right reads, right angles,” Mercer said. “He makes it as simple as possible. He’s one of the best at it.”
Snider back at full speed
Travis Snider made his first start in right field since returning from a minor finger injury that occurred while cutting a sweet potato. He wasn’t the only player to have a freak knife accident this spring, as Boston pitcher Jake Peavy, who was expected to face the Pirates Monday, cut his left index finger while fishing near Fort Myers over the weekend.
“I heard via [twitter] that apparently I’m not the only guy who’s had issues with a knife this spring,” Snider said. “We’ve got to come up with some kind of glove or something. Those metal grate gloves. Freak things happen unfortunately.”
Snider went 1 for 2 with a run-scoring double in the third inning and said the finger is: “All good. No band-aid or nothing. I’m out there ready to rock.”
Volquez makes progress
Edinson Volquez pitched two innings Monday against Boston and will start in his next outing, he said.
He gave up one hit, one earned run and walked two. The Red Sox also stole three bases in his first inning.
“I felt pretty good. It’s a long process though. We’ve been working on a lot of little things to try and make adjustments,” Volquez said.
“My next game is going to be against Baltimore, and I’m going to start the game. I think I’m pretty close to what they want me to do.”
Fine way to greet ex-teammate
Former Pirates pitcher Chris Resop pitched Monday for Boston, relieving starter Brandon Workman with two outs in the third. The first batter Resop faced was Pedro Alvarez, who roped a single to left field.
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