Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer started the 2015 season in much the same way as he did the 2014 campaign.
After two months in 2014, Mercer was batting .199 as the calendar turned to June. Once again, through two months in 2015, Mercer again sat below the Mendoza line.
Mercer batted .197/.275/.197 in April, without collecting a single extra-base hit. He was worse in May, posting a .188/.222/.246 slash line.
As he struggled for the second year in a row, it seemed the leash might be a little shorter in 2015. Due not only to his lack of performance, but also with Jung-ho Kang pushing him as the Pirates new infielder posted a .799 OPS in those two months.
In June 2014, Mercer finally got his act together and hit .267/.299/.436. A .735 OPS from a shortstop in today’s game is pretty solid.
June 2015 has held similar success for the shortstop.
A peak, after spending much of his season in a valley, came Friday for Mercer as his double in the 10th inning lifted the Pirates to a 3-2 walk-off win against the Atlanta Braves.
“He’s had a bunch of good at-bats leading up to that at-bat,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s really swung the bat much better. The numbers are playing out for some while now. Bat off the ball, hard outs.”
Mercer is hitting .257/.304/.405 in June, his first month hitting over .200 and posting an OPS that doesn’t begin with a 4.
“Obviously the way you start, the way I start, is definitely not the way I want to start but you’ve got to keep telling yourself it’s a long season, there’s a long way to go,” Mercer said. “You’ve got to keep giving yourself opportunities and let you work the kinks out and get back to what you’re good at.”
He went 3-for-5 Friday, his second consecutive multi-hit game.
“It was nice to see him get a reward,” Hurdle said. “He pounded that ball to right field.”
It helped that at-bat came against former Pirates closer Jason Grilli, which helped.
Mercer fouled off a slider from Grilli to start the at-bat and then took another for ball one. With the count 1-1, Grilli turned to his fastball to get ahead and did so as Mercer fouled the pitch off to fall down 1-2.
Grilli brought his fastball again and Mercer sent a tailing fly ball off the Clemente Wall to score the game-winning run.
“The first two pitches he threw sliders and caught me off guard and the pitch before I hit I fouled off,” Mercer said. “He just beat me. I was ready for it. I know he’s not going to go away from his strength. I had an idea of what’s coming.”
While Mercer’s struggles this season and last are well-documented, Hurdle will always be the last one to give up on his players. Sometimes maybe even not at all.
When players like Mercer justify Hurdle’s optimism, and deliver moments like Friday’s walk-off, they make their manager look pretty good.
“Many times I’ll just grab him and say ‘I believe in you,'” Hurdle said. “‘This is gonna grow you up. This is gonna make you better.’ Nobody wants to go through anything like this but it makes you better.”
Mercer’s numbers still are an eyesore at .225/.276/.306, but if his next three months resemble last year’s pattern the Pirates will take the boon to their offense. From June through September 2014, Mercer was above a .700 OPS in each month and posted two months over .800.
“I haven’t lost confidence because I think last year was a testament, it was huge for me and for this whole organization, for skip keeping trust in me,” Mercer said. “This year it’s been the same. The last couple weeks I’ve been hitting the ball so hard, seeing it so well. I’m in a good place and I know eventually it’s going to work out for me.”