Mercer making a habit of ending slumps in June

Mercer making a habit of ending slumps in June

PITTSBURGH -- Stop us if you have heard this one before: Jordy Mercer lifted the Pirates' spirits and their winning percentage in Friday night's 3-2 win over the Braves with a 10th-inning walk-off RBI double, his third hit of the game and sixth hit of a week that has seen his average reach .225 after being at .192 entering June.

Oh, wait. You have heard this before: By June 26, 2014, a hot stretch had raised to .229 Mercer's average, which was at .199 entering June.

"Somebody revisited that with me in a conversation a while ago," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "[Mercer] has really swung the bat much better than the numbers play out for a while now, so it was nice to see him get a reward. I believe he will come out on the other side, as he did last year."

The experience of last season -- once out of the shackles, he kept ripping, ending among the league's top offensive shortstops with his .255 average, 12 homers and 55 RBIs -- encouraged Mercer to remain confident through the latest slow start.

"That was huge for me, for this whole organization," Mercer said. "[Hurdle] kept trusting me, and this year it was the same."

Mercer gets pied after walk-off

Not that Mercer wants to make a habit of tripping over seasons' doorsteps.

"We've had a couple of chats," Hurdle said, "and many times I'll just grab a guy and say, 'I believe, keep going, it will grow you up, make you better.' Nobody raises his hand to volunteer to go through something like this, but it does make you better. You can't let it break your focus, your will, your drive."

So there was Mercer driving in Andrew McCutchen with the winning run on a rocket over Nick Markakis' head and off the Clemente Wall.

The blow, as many of his other recent hits, thus traveled to the opposite field, not a totally incidental occurence.

"That's when I know I'm at my best," Mercer said, "when I'm hitting the ball the other way, because that keeps me on the off-speed stuff. I know I'm in a good place when I'm hitting the ball to right field."

"He pounded that ball," Hurdle said. "He's been hitting into some hard outs, but his confidence is growing. He's swinging the bat we've seen in the past."

That's key, because Hurdle never tires of seeing Mercer's defense.

"I love his defense," the manager said, repeating for emphasis, "I love his defense."

That has made it easier to be patient for the bat, and have that patience rewarded.

"Obviously, the way I started isn't what you want," Mercer said. "But it's a long season, and you've got to work the kinks out and get back to doing what you're good at."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.