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Pirates

Pirates notebook: Harrison, Mercer to begin rehab assignments next week

| Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, 8:03 p.m.
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer strikes a pose while running the bases during a workout before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer strikes a pose while running the bases during a workout before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Josh Harrison works out during batting practice before a game against the Cubs on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Pirates' Josh Harrison works out during batting practice before a game against the Cubs on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer runs the basepaths while working out with Josh Harrison before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer runs the basepaths while working out with Josh Harrison before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Josh Harrison runs in the outfield during a workout before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Pirates' Josh Harrison runs in the outfield during a workout before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer runs the basepaths during a workout before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer runs the basepaths during a workout before batting practice Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at PNC Park.

Pirates infielders Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer are expected to begin rehab assignments next week with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Harrison is slated to go to Indy on Tuesday. He has been on the disabled list since July 6 because of a torn thumb ligament which required surgery.

Mercer likely will be sent to Indy on July 14. He went on the DL 17 days ago with a sprained left knee.

Neither player will be rushed back into the lineup, manager Clint Hurdle said.

“It won't be one or two days (in Indy),” Hurdle said. “You want to give them some time. You want to put them in position where they can come back, play and compete and feel good. It can be different with each guy.”

Hurdle said Harrison's injury probably will require a longer rehab stint than Mercer's.

Harrison began taking live batting practice Tuesday, and Mercer started swinging late last week.

Harrison said his left hand, which is on the bottom when he bats, isn't stinging when he makes contact.

“It's typically the top hand (that stings),” Harrison said. “I've got a grip on my bat for any protection I may need. I understand over the course of playing there may be a few balls I hit or field that may aggravate (the thumb) a little bit, but I think I'm past the point of being too cautious. I've gotten to the point where I'm comfortable.”

Initially, Harrison's biggest challenge was squeezing his mitt when he fielded balls.

“Over the past couple days, it got more comfortable and it's gotten stronger,” Harrison said. “I've gotten more confident.”

Mercer added turns and angles to his running drills, as well as going side to side. On Wednesday, he did sliding drills on the field.

“We took baby steps up to this point, and it responded really well,” Mercer said. “I like to push more, obviously. I want to see where I'm at, see what I can do and see how far I can go. I didn't think sliding was going to be a problem, and it wasn't.”

Rotation renovation

Thursday's off day allowed Hurdle to break up the three left-handers in his rotation. Lefty Francisco Liriano will start Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, followed by righty Charlie Morton on Sunday.

Hurdle said lefties Jeff Locke and J.A. Happ have similar throwing styles, so he would prefer to avoid pitching them back-to-back. Monday is another off day, which could lead to another rotation shake-up.

“Maybe,” Hurdle said. “We've got some thoughts going in. There are some people I've got to talk to before I go any further.”

Ramirez batting cleanup

Hurdle gave no indication whether Aramis Ramirez will remain in the cleanup spot when the series against the Dodgers begins Friday. Ramirez has six hits in his first 38 at-bats since joining the Pirates, although he had two Wednesday.

“It's not like the guy's up there clueless and not getting anything done,” Hurdle said. “He's had some opportunities to drive in runs and hasn't come through yet. We'll see where this takes us. By no means is the guy just showing up and not giving us anything. He's hit some balls sharp at people and hasn't gotten rewards.”

Over his 18 seasons in the majors, Ramirez has batted fourth in 58 percent of his games. As a cleanup hitter, he has a career .285 batting average and .839 OPS. This year, however, Ramirez is batting .159 with a .468 OPS in the cleanup spot.

Hurdle said putting Ramirez in the No. 4 spot seemed natural.

“I was hoping to put an anchor in (the lineup),” Hurdle said. “I've got guys who shouldn't be hitting fourth (who are) hitting fourth, to be frank. (Starling) Marte's not a cleanup hitter. (Neil) Walker's not a cleanup hitter. I think they have strengths in other places. (Ramirez) is a guy who's hit cleanup in his career.”

If Ramirez is dropped in the order, the player most likely to replace him is Jung Ho Kang.

Around the horn

The Cleveland Indians claimed reliever Deolis Guerra off waivers. Guerra was designated for assignment July 31 when the Pirates acquired Joakim Soria. ... The eighth annual Pirates Charities on Root Sports auction raised a record of more than $715,000.

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

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