CHICAGO -- It is too early to credit Jung Ho Kang with having played up to his inadvertent boast four months ago of doing "better than" Jordy Mercer. Kang's presence, however, is hindering Mercer from "getting better."
Mercer's season got off to the same cold start as a year ago. After 31 games in 2014, Mercer dragged an average of .161. Thirty-one games into this season, he is batting .176.
But Mercer's blueprint has changed dramatically. Whereas a year ago the Bucs were totally committed to him and he continued to get the regular play that allowed him to hit .274 the rest of the season, now Kang's presence is cutting into his reps.
Sunday's start at short was the fourth in six games for Kang, including all of this Cubs series.
"We told [Mercer] before the weekend started that he would get it off. We had a plan coming in," said manager Clint Hurdle, who recognizes the changed landscape. "We'll figure it out as we go. I know the dynamic of working with Jung Ho, getting him more playing time. We'll see where it takes us."
Hurdle rates the two shortstops as comparably reliable defensively, albeit with different skill sets, so Kang's heavier bat gives him an edge.
"They are different defenders. I compare Jung Ho to a Jhonny Peralta type," said Hurdle. "Jordy probably has more lateral range, and more experience with positioning, and the only way Jung Ho will get that is by continuing to go out there and get those reps. Both have very, very accurate arms.
"At short, Jung Ho is playing his natural position, but at a whole different level of competition [than he had in the Korean Baseball Organization], and he had done a very, very solid professional job."
Hurdle isn't ready by any means to seed his two shortstops. For the time being, they are 1 and 1-A.
"It doesn't benefit anyone for me to get ahead of myself," the manager said. "We'll continue to look for the best lineup we can put out there daily. Situations will present themselves. The game gives guys opportunities to do things.
"We'll see, I don't have a crystal ball. I do know Jordy will continue to work and to prepare himself. He is a very good defender and player who has shown us he will try to find his way back on the offensive side of the ball."