Jordy Mercer Continues His Hot Stretch, But Pirates Can’t Find Additional Offense in Loss

PITTSBURGH — Jordy Mercer hit a solo home run on Sunday, his sixth of the season. It was the only offense the Pirates could muster against Chicago Cubs starter John Lackey and they lost, 7-1, to close their 10-game homestand at an even 5-5.

The offensive performance on Sunday was disappointing, as the Pirates collected just three hits and never seemed poised to do much of anything against Lackey or the Chicago bullpen.

Mercer, though has been anything but with a bat in his hands this year. After starting the season with an extended BABIP-induced slump, Mercer has been on fire for the last month. In the last 30 days, Mercer has gone 39 for 115 (.364).

It’s not just hitting for average, either. He’s slugging .589 in the last 30 days. His home run was his sixth of the season and his ISO is up to .142 on the year. He hasn’t hit for that much power since he posted a .150 mark in 2013.

“Jordy’s really been steady almost since the start and now the results are starting to come,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The home runs are showing up a little bit. He’s got some power in the barrel to his bat. It’s been fun to watch him hit.”

Maybe the most impressive part about Mercer’s offensive surge is that it’s come almost exclusively against right-handed pitching.

For his career, Mercer has an .808 OPS against left-handed pitchers and a .668 OPS against right-handed pitchers. This season, that’s been flipped in a big way, with an .856 OPS against righties and a .492 OPS against lefties. Considering that two-thirds of his at-bats have come against right-handed hitting, that’s the impetus for most of his surge this season.

“He’s maturing as a hitter,” Hurdle said. “The overall attack has been very good. The OPS, the on-base percentage we talked about versus right-handers, especially.”

Mercer doesn’t think he’s doing anything cosmically different that’s reversed his fortunes against right-handers.

“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “My approach hasn’t really changed. I’m still seeing the ball good as I was. Now, it’s just going to left or to the right of them where they can’t catch it.”

Mercer does have a .368 BABIP against righties this year and a .140 BABIP against lefties. But even if those numbers normalized, he’d still be ahead of the curve against right-handed hitting.

MOVE NOT PAYING DIVIDENDS

The plan for demoted closer Tony Watson was for him to pitch every other day with clean innings in lower leverage situations to see if that got him on the right track again. It’s the same path the team seems to have successfully used to right the ship with Daniel Hudson. It’s only been five appearances so far, but the early returns are not good.

Watson pitched the ninth inning Sunday and gave up a solo home run to Ian Happ. In his five appearances since his demotion, he’s given up seven hits and three runs in 4.2 innings for a
1.50 WHIP and a 5.79 ERA. On the year, he has a 1.53 WHIP and a 4.50 ERA, so if anything, he’s been marginally worse in his new role.

The Pirates have the luxury of patience with Watson because of the way Hudson and Felipe Rivero have been pitching, but if Juan Nicasio’s arm “fatigue,” as Hurdle put it, turns into something more, the Pirates are going to be hurting for late-inning arms quickly.

TOUGH DECISIONS

Both Hurdle and general manger Neal Huntington talked before the game about the difficult decision they’re facing at catcher.

Chris Stewart returned from the disabled list Sunday and dressed but did not play, even though starter Francisco Cervelli was given the day off.

Rookie Elias Diaz started instead and he did nothing to make team management’s decision any easier, going 1 for 3 with one of the three Pirates’ hits and throwing out a runner at second base. Diaz is now hitting .319/.385/.469.

“That’s a decision we’re going to have to make with Diaz,” Huntington said. “Right now he’s our best offensive option.”

He’s also thrown out 2 of 6 on attempted stolen bases. It’s pretty tough to make an argument that Diaz isn’t the best catcher on the team right now, let alone one of the best two.

  • GreenWeenie
    June 19, 2017 4:01 pm

    Marte and Kang have killed this team….thanks guys. Yes, I know the pitching has been bad, but at least those guys are at the ball park grinding. Losing our top two offensive players to irresponsibility has really made a mess of things. If you like Frazier in the lineup, imagine having him and Marte in the same lineup.

    Oh, and the catcher decision is not difficult. It’s time for Diaz to share time with Cervelli and eventually take over. Trade Stewart or cut him loose. They are over thinking this. Stewart is older and is no longer reliable – too many injuries. If you trade Cervelli and keep Stewart as the backup, he’ll just end up on the DL. He’s had a solid MLB career. Time to pass the torch.

    Let Stallings continue to develop in AAA. Trade Cervelli in the off season or next July and have Diaz/Stallings as your catchers. Stallings will do fine as a backup and work well with the pitching staff.

  • Diaz is he best catcher we have …..period. He is almost 27 years old and making league minimum. Cervelli is an injury prove 31 year old making $9M. Isn’t Cervelli the obvious trade candidate in the next month if healthy? Don’t waste the better, younger and cheaper player on the bench or at AAA. Make the deal, install Diaz as the starter for now and the future.

    • Agreed. Cervelli is the one who should go, especially if we can find someone to take his whole salary and give us an interesting prospect back.

    • Never understood extending both Cervelli and Stewart. Extending Stewart made sense, assuming he’d back up Diaz. Cervelli didn’t make sense.

      • I am thinking the extension provides an element of control to a team with a higher budget that views him as an upgrade. There’s the issue though…..what contender needs Cervelli. We need a trading partner.

      • I know it’s been an entire year and all, but how are we forgetting that at the time of Cervelli’s extension Elias Diaz was getting an alternative to Tommy John performed on his structurally-damaged throwing elbow and had posted an OPS under .700 in parts of three AAA seasons?

        That extension not only made perfect sense, they had no choice in the matter if they ever planned to feign interest in truly contending in the recent future.

    • Can we maybe wait for a month where Diaz *isn’t* BABIP’ing near .400 before jettisoning the guy who’s proven to be an actual average Major League catcher?

    • Maybe they plan to make their catchers utility infielders too. Stew will soon be playing 2B, etc.

  • I know he is also playing well and I like what he is contributing
    to this team, but how about sending Osuna down for 10 days
    until we can find a trade for Stewart? Osuna can get some
    everyday at bats

    By the way who was the guy who used to play left field
    for the Pirates? Do we really miss him? I don’t.
    Frazier has done a good job to fill the spot both
    offensively and defensively and not done anything
    stupid on the basepaths.

    • I would not be surprised if the Pirates make a trade involving Marte, bringing up Meadows, and moving ‘Cutch to one of the corners. Frazier has been better than replacement value, but an OF that could possibly hit 60-80 HR is more important in the long term. ‘Cutch has an Option year in 2018 for the same money as this year. If the trade offers are not good enough, he stays.

      Mercer 30, has been the glue in the IF, is only making $4.3 mil, and has one more year of Arbitration remaining. Hanson is gone, but we still have Moroff 24, Gosselin 28, Bostick 24, and Ngoepe 27 clogging up the upper echelon of the minors. If trades are made involving Cole, ‘Cutch, or others, lets try to find a SS with defensive skills that may also be able to hit 15-20 HR.

      • scrappy2499
        June 19, 2017 7:46 am

        Not sure you will see Meadows before September if at all this season.

        • Frazier makes rushing Meadows a luxury. He can now see more at bats in the minors like NH talks about. Doesnt NH compare the ABs that Polanco got to Marte and Cutch often? Id hate to see two prospects screwed up by rushing them. Assuming that is why Polanco hasn’t become the player we hoped he be by now.

          • Poloncos biggest issue isn’t because he was rushed. He just isn’t as talented that we all needed him to be.

      • Marte isn’t going anywhere. When Meadows starts the season next year, he’ll be the LF while Marte is in CF. Cutch will be gone.

        They’re not trading Cole right now. And a def SS with power isn’t easy to get on the market.

        • Would you trade Cole and Newman for Rogers and McMahon at Colorado. We would have the left side of our infield for 8 years. I would do it but I doubt the Rocks would do it.

          • No way. At least based upon the little I read. McMahon may be a 1b, because he is not good enough to stick at 3rd and he strikes out too much. Rogers power is intriguing but other than that, Newman could be the better SS.

        • The Stro’s are making overtures regarding Sonny Gray or Gerrit Cole. Gray has been shaky the past 2 years, and the last thing you want to do is get an injured pitcher. Probably just a negotiating ploy.

          If the Pirates could get Kyle Tucker and Freudis Nova as part or all of the deal, would you say no? I would like to keep Cole, but I also know our chances of keeping him are slim and none. We need to be prepared to take the best offer possible.

      • I do not see that happening not do I think they should do that. Martes contract is to kind to the Pirates. It would not make fiscal sense to move him because of a positive test. As far as performance a number or the players (Braun, Cabrara and others) have been suspended before Marte have for the most part been just as good as they were prior to the test. If I had to guess the front office has their fingers crossed that Cutch will give a healthy 30 days of production and then they will move him to the highest bidder

    • You don’t miss Marte? He only batted .311 last year with 40+ steals, and is the best DEF OF in the system. Frazier has been OK, but he’s no Marte.

      • And, for those reasons, possibly the guy most teams will want, especially being 28 and with the years of control. Put him in the AL East and he’s got 25-30 HR potential.

      • I’d trade him before I had time to complete this reply. Said it for over a year.

    • I think Polanco might be the odd man out. Assuming Cutch is still here when Marte returns.

      • I believe Harrison will be gone by the trade deadline so if they like Frazier as much as we do he will be come their 2nd baseman.

        • The bat is good, the glove is just not there. Hanson and Moroff were probably our best 2B with combinations of excellent D and offensive weapons. Hanson had the footspeed and ability to steal bases, Moroff with slightly better power and good eye.

          My thought is that in a few years Tucker will be at SS and Newman at 2B, or at least I hope so.

  • Good to see Jordy hitting well, its a shame that this team can’t get more than 2 regular bats going at the same time.
    As for Watson, its not so much the leverage of the inning in which he pitches, its the fact that he is missing with his pitches out over the plate. He used to start his fastball off the inside corner against righties and have it run back over the edge. Now he is starting it on the inner edge and it is running over the center of the plate. Couple that with the reduced velocity, and you get this.
    As for the catcher situation, one has to believe that if the Pirates get an offer for Cervelli at the deadline, they would be inclined to take it. They have stubbornly held on to Diaz in trade talks for the last 2+ years. They have a reason for that, and it is because they see him as a starter at the major league level.

    • Called Watson’s collapse not happy about it though. Killing his trade value.

      • His trade value may well be negative at this point. Really sad to watch his collapse. I hope he can come back in the future but not with the pirates paying $5 mil a year.

  • I don’t understand wht Stew wasn’t sent on rehab for 2-3 games. Or even a week. Get him some regular ABs and buy some time. Clearly he’s the 3rd wheel at this point.

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