Mercer picking up slack in Kang's absence

Mercer picking up slack in Kang's absence

CHICAGO -- One may have had to really reach to connect the dots, but if revenge indeed is the best medicine, Jordy Mercer followed doctor's orders on Saturday.

Ten days earlier, the Cubs had knocked out Jung Ho Kang, the shortstop who suffered a season-ending left-knee injury, on a slide by Chris Coghlan.

Saturday, Mercer was the shortstop who literally knocked the Cubs out of the National League Central race, his three-run homer in a 4-0 victory eliminating Chicago from division-title contention.

The loss of Kang, one of the Bucs' steadiest hitters since the All-Star break, was feared as a devastating blow for their postseason plans. The Pirates have gone 8-1 without Kang, entering Sunday night's game in Chicago.

"We're getting hot at the right time, and that's certainly a good thing," said Mercer, who has been anything but a one-hit wonder since the Bucs lost Kang's bat.

In those nine game, through Saturday, Mercer was 12-for-34 (.353), five of the hits for extra-bases -- Kang's specialty.

Mercer picked up a reputation as a second-half hitter last his season, his first as a regular, by batting .278 after June 1 compared to .199 before. So manager Clint Hurdle was asked whether Mercer got hot to cover Kang's slack, or if his streak is coincidental.

"I'm not a big believer in coincidences," Hurdle said. "We've had a next-man-up mentality since I've been here. He knows he is a guy we count on on both sides of the ball."

"I wasn't necessarily looking over my shoulder," Mercer said. "But somebody's got to pick up where [Kang] left off. If I can do that somehow, some way, it'll help out this team."

Mercer entered Sunday 96 at-bats deep into his comeback from his own left knee injury that had sent him to the DL for the first time in his career, for five weeks.

"I talked to some guys who've been on the DL, and they said it takes about 50-to-100 at-bats to figure it out," Mercer said. "The important thing is to stay with the process, and I had the patience to do that."

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.