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Pirates notebook: Players mindful of ongoing World Cup

| Sunday, June 22, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

CHICAGO — As a kid, Andrew McCutchen wanted to play soccer. His parents, however, weren't wild about the idea.

“They gave me a choice,” McCutchen said. “It was either soccer or baseball.”

It's clear McCutchen chose wisely. He still likes soccer but doesn't follow it closely.

“I watch it,” McCutchen said. “But it's not like I have any jerseys or anything like that.”

McCutchen is among several celebrities who appear in ESPN's “I Believe” commercial for the World Cup. McCutchen, Jon Hamm, Cam Newton, Ice Cube, Kevin Costner, Jimmy Kimmel and others perform the pregame chant popularized by Team USA's boosters, the American Outlaws.

The U.S. team tied Portugal, 2-2, on Sunday night. That morning in St. Louis, pitcher Adam Wainwright walked into the Cardinals clubhouse with an American flag painted on his face.

“The only way to one-up that is to go full-body paint,” Pirates reliever Jared Hughes said.

Hughes paused a moment.

“On second thought, no,” he said with a laugh.

Mercer's turnaround

Jordy Mercer was stuck in an 0-for-20 funk when manager Clint Hurdle benched him for two games at the end of May. In his first game back, Mercer banged a single and a double off Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu.

On June 2, Mercer walloped a long home run and hit a pair of opposite-field singles. That's when he knew things were turning around for him.

“The start of it is hitting balls the other way,” Mercer said. “Staying on balls and driving them into both the left and right (field) gaps. Everything kind of takes care of itself after that. Once I get a good hitting position, I let it fly.”

Mercer is batting .290 (22 for 76) in June. His five home runs this month are tops among big league shortstops.

“His month of June has been very solid,” Hurdle said. “He's getting his swing off. He's playing solid defense. His confidence is growing. It's fun to watch him get in the box now with more intent.”

Planet of the aches

Josh Harrison rolled his left ankle during an at-bat Saturday, but he was well enough to play Sunday. ... Neil Walker (appendectomy) was scheduled to play a full game at second base with High-A Bradenton on Sunday night. Walker is on track to come off the disabled list Tuesday. ... Gerrit Cole (right shoulder fatigue) will throw a simulated game (six innings/85 pitches) Monday. Cole's target return day is Saturday. ... Francisco Liriano (left oblique strain) made 65 throws from 100 feet on Saturday. He also got on the mound for “shadow work,” which means he did not use a baseball.

A little history

As part of the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, the Cubs are honoring a different decade during every homestand. The Pirates and Cubs wore 1953-style uniforms for Sunday's game. That was the season Ernie Banks, the infielder dubbed “Mr. Cub,” made his debut.

The Pirates' gray throwback jersey was relatively the same as their 2014 version. Two biggest differences: the word “Pittsburgh” across the front is arced and there are no names on the back.

Barmes on target

Clint Barmes has made several top-notch plays at second base while Walker's been on the DL. Whether he has to dive for a ball, make a spinning stop on the run or throw from his knees, Barmes has made accurate throws to first base.

“His internal GPS is rock-solid. He should start selling them,” Hurdle said. “He has wonderful field awareness. Whichever quadrant he's in — whether it be in the shortstop side, in the hole, up the middle, second base, four hole — he has the ability to have his back to a play, turn around a fire and put the ball right where it needs to be. It's uncanny.”

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

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