Pirates notebook: Mercer welcomes chance in No. 2 spot

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, July 28, 2014, 9:54 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — Although Monday was only the second time this season Jordy Mercer batted second in the lineup, the Pirates shortstop is familiar with the spot.

“I've hit second ... shoot, ever since I can remember,” Mercer said before Monday's late game against the San Francisco Giants. “In college, I hit in the two-hole. Coming up through the (Pirates) system, I was always either two or three. So there's a comfort factor there for me.”

In 39 games batting second, Mercer has hit .333 (49 for 147), including 16 doubles, four home runs and 14 RBIs. He was in the No. 2 spot for the first time this season on Saturday against the Colorado Rockies and reached base in two of his four plate appearances.

It's no coincidence both of Mercer's appearances batting second came against a left-handed starting pitcher. In 69 at-bats this year against southpaws, Mercer is batting .304 with 12 RBIs and a .787 OPS.

“From last season into this season, he's been one of our better hitters against left-handed pitching,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's leading the team in RBIs against left-handed pitching this year, in probably (fewer) at-bats than the other guys. Good looks, good reads, quality at-bats. I think Jordy gives us, against left-handed pitching, the best dynamic in that spot right now.”

Sandwiched between leadoff man Josh Harrison and No. 3 hitter Andrew McCutchen is one of the sweetest spots in the Pirates' lineup.

“It's a lot different than the eight-hole, for sure,” Mercer said with a laugh. “You can be more aggressive. Usually, there's somebody at the top of the lineup who can run. So you do a lot of different things — bunt, hit and run, all sorts of stuff. And (pitchers) are going to come after you, obviously, because Cutch is behind you. The last thing they want to do is put you on.”

Last season, Mercer started 28 games in the No. 2 position and hit .352 with a .958 OPS. He drove in 12 runs from that spot.

“Last year, every time I hit two-hole, it seemed (Starling) Marte was on base,” Mercer said. “It's not a bad place to hit, between a fast leadoff guy and McCutchen.”

Cole solid in rehab start

Right-hander Gerrit Cole (sore right lat) looked good Monday in his first rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis. Against Minnesota Twins affiliate Rochester, Cole worked five scoreless innings (81 pitches/50 strikes) and allowed five hits. He walked three and struck out seven.

Cole is expected to make at least one more rehab outing. If all goes well, he probably will rejoin the Pirates rotation Aug. 7 or 8.

Trade winds

The Tampa Bay Rays had a scout in Altoona on Monday to watch the Pirates Double-A affiliate.

The Pirates are seeking pitching help but are not likely to be in the market for pricey left-hander David Price. It's possible (albeit unlikely) the Pirates could end up part of a three-team deal that sends Price elsewhere.

There are other possibilities, both large and small.

Think big: Ben Zobrist, who can play shortstop, second base and right field, reportedly is on the market.

Think small: Juan Carlos Oviedo, a right-handed reliever, was designated for assignment Saturday. Oviedo, 32, was originally signed by the Pirates in 2000 as an amateur free agent and played under the name Leo Nunez through the 2011 season.

Also, the Philadelphia Phillies still seem likely to trade reliever Antonio Bastardo, and the Pirates remain interested.

Around the horn

From Wednesday through Friday, there will be no service fees charged for tickets for any remaining 2014 game dates purchased by phone or online at pirates.com/tickets. ... The Pirates signed Washington State shortstop Trace Tam Sing as an undrafted free agent. Tam Sing, 22, was assigned to short-season Class A Jamestown and went 1 for 3 Sunday in his pro debut.

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

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