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Barmes, Mercer relationship stays strong

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes celebrates with second baseman Jordy Mercer on the field Thursday, July 11, 2013, after defeating the Athletics at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Jordy Mercer brings shortstop Clint Barmes his hat and glove to the field Wednesday, July10, 2013, during a game against the Athletics at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Jordy Mercer singles during the second inning against the Athletics on Wednesday, July10, 2013, at the PNC Park.

Jordy Mercer and Clint Barmes work side by side on the field every day, taking grounders during infield practice. During games, they joke, laugh and talk strategy in the dugout.

Mercer, 26, supplanted Barmes, 34, as the Pirates' everyday shortstop in mid-June. The move could have created a strained relationship between the two infielders, but instead they have not let it become a distraction.

“We've both thrown our egos aside,” Mercer said. “We've got each other's backs and we push each other. We're making each other better, I think. I know he's trying to get back in the lineup and get everything going. It's a back-and-forth battle and we're having a lot of fun with it.”

It helps that the Pirates have one of the best records in the majors.

“Anytime winning comes into play, you can throw a lot of that other stuff out the window,” Mercer said, grinning.

Before he elevated Mercer to the starter's role, manager Clint Hurdle pulled Barmes into his office to tell him the news. Barmes took it well, which didn't surprise Hurdle.

“I expected it, based on what I know about Clint,” Hurdle said. “The interaction they've had has really helped Jordy understand the defensive angles a shortstop needs to play. They're similar type guys, as far as (being) blue-collar guys who don't have outstanding, over-the-top range but efficient, above-average major league range.”

Barmes, in the final season of a two-year, $10.5 million contract, is still solid defensively. He lost his job because he's stopped hitting.

Last year, Barmes was in a funk most of the season. He heated up in the final two months and wound up hitting .229 with a .593 OPS.

This year, Barmes is batting .206, nudging his average over the Mendoza Line by going 4 for 13 over his past six games with a .520 OPS.

“I still feel I'm in a better position now than I was at this point last year,” Barmes said. “At this point, I'm going to take every positive I can get.”

It can't be easy for an 11-year veteran to swallow his pride and mentor his replacement. Still, Barmes was in a similar situation in 2007, when Troy Tulowitzki became the Rockies' starting shortstop and Barmes moved into a utility role.

Still, Barmes hasn't given up hope of regaining an everyday job.

“Jordy's worked hard and earned everything he's gotten, so I couldn't be happier for him,” Barmes said. “But can I say it's been easy for me to sit and watch? No. It's tough for me at this point in my career to have to try to take advantage of every opportunity (to play). But that's where I'm at, and that's what I'm trying to do every day.

“If I get in, I get in. If I don't, then it is what it is. It's a long season and I'm still going to show up. And when I'm asked to do something, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. That's how I've tried to do it my whole career.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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