Pirates notebook: Jordy Mercer warming up offensively

Jordy Mercer entered the game Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies hitting .280 in his previous 46 games.

That stretch includes all six of his home runs and eight doubles. In four games this month, Mercer is 7 for 12 with two doubles after going 2 for 4 in the series-opening victory.

"I'm in a good place right now," said Mercer, hitting .243 for the season with a. 283 on-base percentage.

"I'm staying consistent, and that's ultimately what you want to do in this game."

Mercer's recent performance has followed his struggles in April, when he went 11 for 66 with one extra-base hit.

As a result, he ranks in the bottom-fifth among qualified shortstops in most offensive categories.

"It's all part of growing pains [that] a second-year player can go through in his first full season as a starter," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

"He's learned a lot about himself, he's learned a lot about his teammates because they've continued to stay with him, encourage him, challenge him, whatever it might take from time to time.

"It's making him better and making him tougher."

In 365 plate appearances in 2013, Mercer hit .285 with eight homers and 22 doubles. He did most of his damage against left-handers, against whom he hit .410 with a .692 slugging percentage.

As the everyday shortstop this season in a division lacking many left-handed starters, Mercer hasn't enjoyed the same success.

"Now you're going to be the guy and you're facing ones and twos in rotations, and threes and fours, and not getting matched up as much," Hurdle said.

"He never missed a left-hander last year. That was one of the things he rode so very, very well.

"Now he's facing all kinds of pitching."

Hurdle counters platoon splits

Hurdle benched left-handed hitters Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis Friday against Phillies right-hander Roberto Hernandez, he said, in response to Hernandez's reverse platoon splits this season.

In 862/3 innings before Friday, Hernandez held left-handed batters to a .219 average, .363 on-base percentage -- boosted by a 17.5 percent walk rate against lefties compared to a 6.8 percent walk rate against right-handed hitters -- and .343 slugging percentage.

Right-handed batters were .264 with a .333 on-base and .451 slugging percentage this season against Hernandez before Friday.

"The walk-to-strikeout [ratio is] different, but the contact, some other indicators, I just thought it would be a good matchup for us to try and get it that way," Hurdle said.

Gaby Sanchez started at first, Josh Harrison at third.

The matchup also represented the best chance to find playing time for Harrison and Sanchez because the Pirates likely will not face a left-handed starter until after the All-Star break.

The Phillies will send two more right-handers to the mound, and the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have one left-handed starter between them. The one left-handed starter, the Cardinals' Marco Gonzalez, will pitch Sunday and miss the Pirates.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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