PITTSBURGH -- Infielders Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer continue making remarkable recoveries from serious injuries, and next week they will embark on Minor League rehab assignments that will bring them a big step closer to rejoining the Bucs' playoff drive.
Harrison tore a ligament in his left thumb on July 5; he is due to go on assignment next Tuesday. The medial collateral ligament in Mercer's left knee was sprained when he was upended during a play at second on July 19; plans are for him to head out on Friday. Both will rehab with Triple-A Indianapolis.
Keeping to that schedule would accelerate the expected recovery timelines of both. Harrison's injury was given an eight-week recovery period, and Mercer's was placed at six weeks. Fresh expectations of their possible return even before rosters expand on Sept. 1 were tempered by manager Clint Hurdle's caveat.
"There is going to be a commitment of time, and of reps," said Hurdle. "We're not looking at a 72-hour shuttle. They're not going to [play] nine innings from the get-go. There will be some abbreviated game action to get their feet underneath them. We'll want to get them to where they can play nine in back-to-back games. It can be different with each guy, but we're looking at 20 to 25 at-bats [for both]."
The recovery of Harrison, who resumed fielding grounders (with the glove on his left hand) a week ago, would seem to be more impressive. Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie missed three months earlier this season with a torn thumb ligament, although his injury was to his throwing hand.
"[Josh] has been hitting in the cage, and [on Tuesday] hit on the field for the first time," said Hurdle, who was encouraged by what he saw. "I didn't see a hesitation, a flinch, a grimace. I liked how he got his swing off."
Mercer began taking swings last weekend in Cincinnati, and likewise seemed unburdened in the batter's box. His biggest hurdle, obviously, will be in the field, particularly when it comes to making quick cuts.
Their places are being filled by Jung Ho Kang, who has produced loudly as the everyday shortstop, and Aramis Ramirez, still looking to get untracked at the plate since his return to Pittsburgh on July 23.