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Friday July 25 2014
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Pirates Notebook: Jordy Mercer is called up; Navarro to AAA

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Shortstop Jordy Mercer has officially been called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The shortstop was hitting strong for Triple-A Indianapolis, while the Pirates' Clint Barmes has struggled.

The news first came out after a tweet from Indianapolis teammate Duke Welker. On Tuesday afternoon at 1:18 pm, Welker tweeted "Congrats Jordy Mercer making the Pros... Well deserved Stud!!!" The post was quickly deleted from Welker's Twitter page.

It is not be a surprise to see Mercer join the Pirates roster. The shortstop is hitting for a .303 batting average and .796 OPS in Triple-A this season, including a .358 average in the month of May. Mercer, 25, is also riding an eight-game hitting streak. He could potentially replace Clint Barmes at shortstop, who has been one of baseball's worst offensive players this season (.170 average, .196 on-base percentage).


Mercer is already on the Pirates' 40-man roster. The team has assigned Yamaico Navarro to Triple-A as a corresponding move, as Navarro has recorded only 51 plate appearances in 2012, despite spending the entire season on the Pirates' active roster.


According to Baseball-Reference, Mercer will become first player named "Jordy" to play in the Majors.


One Up, One Down In May

In the month of May, Neil Walker has struck out in just under 25 percent of his plate appearances. The struggles mark a substantial jump from Walker's 17.7 percent career strikeout rate. That is why it felt good for Walker to pick up two hits in his first two at-bats Monday afternoon.


"I feel like we're putting together better at-bats here recently," Walker said. "It's showing recently that we have done a much better job at the plate."


The extra swings-and-misses have contributed to a .295 on-base percentage for Walker in the month of May, compared to a .342 OBP in April. The Pirates' hitters have the highest strikeout rate in the Majors.


If Neil Walker was trending down in the month of May, the stock of Rod Barajas jumped way up. With a .305 batting average and four home runs this month, the Pirates catcher vastly improved on a paltry .143 batting average and .406 OPS in April.


Save Today

When Tony Watson gave up a run to the Cincinnati Reds in the 9th inning of Monday's game, the score became Pirates 4, Reds 1. The Bucs still had a 99-percent chance of winning that game, as pointed out by Ed Giles of the "In Clemente Weather" blog. Given the low leverage of the situation, I asked manager Clint Hurdle why closer Joel Hanrahan was used instead of another pitcher.


Hurdle's response in full: "Because I felt it was the best way for us to end the game and win the game."


There is a philosophy for managers of winning the game in front of you, and not worrying about tomorrow. It is important to point out, though, that Hanrahan pitched full innings on Friday and Saturday, and the Pirates have two more games against the first-place Reds on Tuesday and Wednesday. Plenty of relievers were available as well, as Watson was the only reliever used after starter James McDonald pitched eight shutout innings. Watson could have easily finished the game himself.


But in defense of Clint Hurdle, the win expectancy for the Pirates on Monday went from 99 percent to 100 percent with Hanrahan's save. And it is likely he will still be available Tuesday and Wednesday after finishing the game with only two pitches.


Lincoln Logging Time In Bullpen

The Pirates bullpen has been very good this season, sitting second in the National League with a 2.61 ERA. A large contributor that number has been the success of Brad Lincoln. He has given up just one earned run in 18.1 relief innings this season, good for a miniscule 0.49 ERA out of the bullpen.


Manager Clint Hurdle called Lincoln "dramatically different" from the pitcher that had below-average results in 2011, citing more confidence after being humbled a bit last year.


So could Lincoln enter the starting rotation at some point? He has had dramatic success utilizing just his fastball and curveball in relief, but Hurdle says Lincoln has three plus pitches this year, including his changeup acting as a "viable pitch." At 27 years old, Lincoln still has the opportunity to become a legitimate starting pitcher, and will only become arbitration eligible after the 2014 season.


Tuesday's Starter: Charlie Morton

I wrote before Morton's last start that Hurdle wanted more aggression from his right-handed pitcher. Another opportunity to do that comes Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that tagged Morton four four earned runs and two homers earlier this month.


But against a lineup that features outstanding left-handed hitters in Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, Morton can rely on his improved approach against lefties. Last season, lefties smacked Morton around for a .960 OPS-against. So far this year, that has fallen to a .710 OPS-against, despite the fact that opposing managers have stacked their lineups with lefties.


Morton attributes the success to using more curveballs and cutters against lefties, as opposed to two-seam sinker pitches that can float over the heart of the plate to lefties.

Minor League Notes
AAA Indianapolis

Starling Marte has an International League leading five triples. He has also gone 10-for-27 with two triples, two homeruns and eight RBI in his last six games... Alex Presley has 11 hits since arriving at Triple-A just 10 games ago, including seven extra base hits... Indianapolis’ pitching staff has a league-leading 2.89 ERA. Jo-Jo Reyes ranks second in the league with a 2.05 ERA while Rudy Owens is fifth in the league at 2.40. Since allowing four earned runs in his first start, Owens has posted a 1.96 ERA (55.0ip/12er) in his last eight starts... Justin Wilson has posted a .204 batting average against, which ranks third in the league among starting pitchers... Duke Welker has allowed two earned runs in his last 10 appearances  (14.0ip) between Altoona and Indianapolis.

AA Altoona
Robbie Grossman is tied for third in the Eastern League with 32 runs scored and tied for the league lead with 28 walks... Brock Holt has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, going 15-for-43 (.349 average)... Victor Black has allowed an earned run in five of his 17 appearances and has struck out 27 batters in 21.0 innings of relief... Kelson Brown is hitting .412 (14-for-34) in 13 games this month.

High- A Bradenton
Gerrit Cole ranks ninth in the Florida State League with a 2.60 ERA. In four starts this month Cole is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA (22.0ip/4er). Cole’s .200 batting average against is the second-lowest among all Florida State League starters... Jameson Taillon ranks third in the league with a .214 batting average against... Bradenton’s pitching staff ranks fourth in the league with a 3.42 ERA... Alex Dickerson ranks fourth in the league with 31 RBI while Mel Rojas Jr. has a league leading six triples.

MId-A West Virginia
Alen Hanson has a South Atlantic League leading 67 hits and ranks fourth in the league with a .338 average. Hanson also ranks second in the league in doubles (17) and extra base hits (29), first in triples (six), third in runs scored (43) and fourth with a .973 OPS... Matt Benedict ranks 10th in the league with a 2.89 ERA.

I was in a minor league press box in Charlotte, NC, last month, taking in one of Gregory Polanco’s final triple-A games. A colleague, upon learning I was from Pittsburgh, approached me with a question.
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