Pirates shortstop appears to be coming out of shell

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His final swing of the bat Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals notwithstanding, Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer appears to have broken out of his early season struggles at the plate.

In the recent nine-game homestand, Mercer hit .300, with four RBIs, four runs scored and his first home run this season.

“Jordy can hit. He’s been an offensive player. The league kind of punched back [and] was attacking him a little differently,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think he’s stayed consistent with his approach. We kept feeding him at-bats, felt he was going to hit. So this is kind of what we were looking for to happen for him and it is. He’s going to help us.”

Mercer doubled and hit a two-run home run, but also hit into a game- and rally-ending, 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded in the ninth inning in a 6-5 loss to the Cardinals at PNC Park.

It was a fastball away from Trevor Rosenthal.

“I just looked at the replay. Probably wasn’t my pitch to swing at,” Mercer said after the game. “Got over-aggressive a little bit. Anywhere but there, really. But it happens. Just got to move on and get ready to play the Brewers.”

He said high-leverage situations require significant control.

“You know what he’s going to throw. He’s going to come at you with something really hard. You know it’s coming so basically it’s a matter of putting a good swing on it,” Mercer said. “You’ve got to control your emotions a little bit and not be too aggressive because you know it’s a good spot. It was a pitcher’s pitch, where he wanted it. End of story, basically.”

Mercer is in the everyday shortstop role for the first time this season.

Generally speaking, confidence breeds success, and Mercer has been gaining steam since the calendar flipped to May.

“I think I’m gaining some confidence obviously, stringing some good at-bats together,” he said. “It’s nice to see the ball hit some green grass for sure. To string together, three, four, five consistent day-in and day-out at-bats, that brings your confidence up as well. Feel like I’m seeing it good. I’m just going to ride with it.”

Mercer ended April hitting .167, but the homestand has bumped his average to a modest .202 and rising.

“He’s swung the bat. With the exception with the last swing, he lines out in the third, hits a two-run homer, hits a sharp grounder at second,” Hurdle said. “It’s been going on for a while and has really picked up traction.”

Tense series ahead

The Pirates anticipate a hard-nosed three-game series in Milwaukee this week and to leave the past behind, as the two clubs reunite for the first time since a Easter Sunday bench-clearing brawl.

“For the most part it needs to be,” Andrew McCutchen said. “If anything it’s going be hard-nosed. Let’s play the game the right way and use the fear to play hard and try and score some runs and pitch well as well. We’ll try and use that as a positive.”

The Pirates are coming off a 6-3 homestand, their best stretch this season, despite a crushing loss Sunday night to the Cardinals.

“Had an opportunity and weren’t able to come through but it’s not like we just got plum beat,” McCutchen said. “If anything, we lost that game. It’s something to build off. We’re staying in ballgames. Pitching is keeping the offense in ball games. We’ve been swinging the bat for the most part. We just have to keep working hard.”

Wandy back in business

The Pirates announced that Wandy Rodriguez will be activated off the disabled list and start Thursday in Milwaukee despite two rehabilitation starts with Class AA Altoona that didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Rodriguez gave up 10 earned runs, three home runs for a two-game total 10.38 ERA.

General manager Neal Huntington cautioned Sunday that those numbers can be deceiving.

“They’re indicative of some mistakes. He got hit hard. But within those innings are some good innings where the crispness was back. The breaking ball was sharp, the curveball was effective, the fastball was down. At the same time he also got hit.”

Huntington said the approach for some pitchers is more about specific pitch execution, and less about winning the game.

“Sometimes a big leaguer on rehab is just a different adrenaline level, a different intensity level, it’s almost like a spring-training outing for them,” Huntington said. “They’re getting their pitches in, they’re getting their feel in. They may throw a breaking ball when they typically may throw a fastball. … You’d like to see everybody have success every time they step on a baseball field, but different guys approach it different ways.”

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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