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Pirates' Harrison, Mercer, d'Arnaud jockey to secure middle infield utility job

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison throws to first base in front of shortstop Jordy Mercer during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, March 7, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison fields a ball during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, March 7, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

BRADENTON, Fla. — Josh Harrison tries not to worry about whether the middle infield utility role is his to win or lose.

As far as what could give him an edge, he said he believes consistency is key no matter what position he is playing or whether he is starting or coming off the bench.

And when it comes to his competition, which includes Jordy Mercer and Chase d'Arnaud, Harrison said the only thing that matters is whether the team wins.

“We've come up through the minor leagues together, won a championship together,” he said. “We're all Pirates. We're teammates. We're family. We want each other to get better, and we all want to help the team any way possible.”

Harrison, 25, spent his first full season in the majors last year primarily coming off the bench, with 18 starts at shortstop, 18 at second base, nine at third and 10 in right field. He has appeared in 10 games this spring, with four starts at second base.

Until Thursday, he was 0 for 13, but he recorded the team's only hit against Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb, walked, stole a base and made a leaping catch at second.

Harrison said he struggled at times last season with consistency in his stance, particularly coming off the bench. He worked during the offeseason to get where he is able to lock in the feel at the plate whether he is starting or not.

“I'm definitely still working on it,” Harrison said. “It's one of those things where some days I feel good and some days not, but that's what we're here to do — work and get better.”

Mercer, 26, made his major league debut in 2012, and said the experience of being with the Pirates for 42 games last season has made this spring a lot different.

“I don't get too excited anymore,” said Mercer, who made 28 appearances at shortstop (nine starts), seven at second base (four starts) and one at third base. “I'm a lot more relaxed and having fun this year, which makes it a lot easier. It's a different feel. I'm not overwhelmed by being in a big league clubhouse.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates have a lot of options at a number of positions, and it's too early to start gauging how the battle for any of the openings is panning out.

“We don't need to paint ourselves into any kind of corner,” Hurdle said. “I'm not going to be saying this on the 27th of March, but it's the 7th of March.”

Entering Friday night's game, Mercer had appeared in eight games, with four starts at shortstop; d'Arnaud had played in seven games, with four starts at shortstop; and Ivan De Jesus, acquired from Boston as part of the trade for Joel Hanrahan, had played nine games with one start at second. All four saw action in Thursday's loss.

Mercer wouldn't let on whether he thought someone has the advantage. But the competition has been strong, he said, and that's what makes it fun.

“We've known each other for a long time, and that helps,” Mercer said. “We get along great, so whatever happens, happens, and we're going to deal with it and move on.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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